Many of our fishery resources in South Africa are overexploited or collapsed, or the stock status is simply unknown. It’s critical that we build in mitigation and adaption measures to better conserve our oceans and aim for sustainable fisheries going forward. Part of the solution is marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs support fisheries sustainability by providing safe spaces in which fish can breed undisturbed, and protect spawning and nursery areas that let young fish mature into adulthood. MPAs also serve to maintain healthy ecosystems and will serve as a refuge for marine resources as climate change becomes more severe.
South Africa currently has 42 Marine Protected Areas, covering 5.4% of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). South Africa’s commitment is 10% in terms of the Convention of Biological Diversity of which we are a signatory. The WWF Nedbank Green Trust, which has provided catalytic funding for MPAs over many years, approved a new round of funding for the South African MPA network project (SAMPAN). This project will be taking MPA expansion another step forward by working towards achieving the 10% target. Attaining 10% will mean protecting for South Africa’s 150 marine ecosystems and ecologically and biologically significant areas
While MPA expansion is a necessity, it is often not well met by various user groups as there is a major interest in extracting the marine resources from these areas, sometimes illegally. A key part of SAMPAN is capacitation of management authorities with training for MPA staff, including legislation and enforcement to improve the effectiveness of MPAs. SAMPAN will also partner with the West Indian Ocean Protected Areas Network (WIOPAN), so that all the countries involved, including the coastal states up the east coast of Africa and the Indian Ocean island states, can benefit from the network’s shared research and resources.