Expansion of SA's MPAs - 'A move to be celebrated, but still a long way to go'

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has nearly doubled the number of Marine Protected Areas in South Africa by adding an additional 20 sites to the list, including the Cape's Robben Island.

This means that 5.4% of South Africa’s territorial waters are now protected.

Read: Concerted efforts to protect South Africa's coasts explained

To understand the significance of this development, Africa Melane speaks to Dr Alison Kock, marine biologist for the Cape Research Centre at South African National Parks (SANParks).

She says it's a move to be celebrated, although it still falls short of the 10% set by the United Nations' sustainable development goals for 2020.

Kock explains that the aim of ocean conservation is to protect the goods and services the seas provide and that more than a third of our economy relies on a healthy ocean.

South Africa is doing better than the rest of the world but we still in the medium-term need to reach 10% of ocean protection and by 2030 it's estimated that we should be protecting about 30% of our ocean.

Dr Alison Kock, Marine biologist - Cape Research Centre at SANParks

She says South Africa's approach has been unique.

We've actually looked at the whole coastline - almost 3 000 kilometres, and looked at the different species and kinds of habitat that occur from west to east, which is incredibly diverse.

Dr Alison Kock, Marine biologist - Cape Research Centre at SANParks

Traditionally those spaces weren't conserved very well in the past.... The network now protects about 90% of the different habitat types that we get in South Africa.

Dr Alison Kock, Marine biologist - Cape Research Centre at SANParks

Although there is now a network of protected areas, she says, each one has a different set of priorities with specific allowed or disallowed activities.

Robben Island has three different priorities - to protect the feeding grounds of the endangered sea birds, South African penguins. It's to help replenish the declining abalone and West Coast rock lobster stocks and it's also to provide an area where you can promote ecotourism and protect the cultural heritage of that area.

Dr Alison Kock, Marine biologist - Cape Research Centre at SANParks

Dr Kock says it's key that enough funding, resources and monitoring is provided to prevent these areas becoming what's known as "paper parks" which exist only on paper and in the legislation.

It's vital that we follow up this proclamation of this network with more funding for monitoring, with better surveillance.

Dr Alison Kock, Marine biologist - Cape Research Centre at SANParks

Essentially it's going to take a lot of collaboration between different government departments, between industry, between other stakeholders, to make this a success otherwise there is a very real danger of them not meeting the objectives that they were set out to meet.

Dr Alison Kock, Marine biologist - Cape Research Centre at SANParks

Listen here to the full conversation:


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