24 June 2004
The government has proclaimed four new marine protected areas, bringing roughly 15% of South Africa’s 3 000km coastline under protection, in the process creating a framework for managing the country’s fisheries and consolidating some of the world’s top research, eco-tourism, sport diving and fishing sites.
South Africa previously had 19 marine protected areas covering approximately 11% of the coastline, which stretches from the country’s border with Namibia in the west to Mozambique in the east. The Tsitsikamma National Park was the first to be proclaimed, in 1964.
Marine protected areas combine conservation with the development of tourism, and in this respect are the marine equivalent of national parks.
South Africa’s new marine protected areas are modelled on the success of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park – with strict zoning of both marine and coastal protected areas creating “controlled zones” allowing for limited fishing, “restricted zones” allowing for controlled tourism development while protecting fish populations, as well as “sanctuary zones” in which complete protection is applied.
The move brings South Africa considerably closer to meeting the resolution taken at the 2002 World Parks Congress, held in Durban, that the world’s protected coastal areas be extended to at least 20% by 2012.
The new protected areas are:
- The Aliwal Shoal, a sub-tidal reef situated 5km off the Kwazulu-Natal south coast near Umkomaas (more on the Aliwal Shoal MPA).
- The marine environment adjacent to Pondoland in the Eastern Cape, stretching from Port St Johns to the Mtamvuna River (more on the Pondoland MPA).
- The Bird Island group in Algoa Bay (more on the Bird Island MPA).
- Table Mountain National Park (formerly the Cape Peninsula National Park) in the Western Cape, which includes all of the coastal waters from Mouille Point in the west to Muizenberg in the east (more on the Table Mountain National Park MPA).
The government is still negotiating for a fifth new marine protected area – a large area of continental shelf off the Namaqualand west coast in the Northern Cape (more on the proposed Namaqualand MPA).
South Africa’s coastal and marine resources provide opportunities for a range of economic, social and developmental activities, including fisheries, agriculture, tourism and mineral resource exploitation.
“Our oceans and marine resources are global treasures, and we will act, in partnership with our coastal communities, to ensure that they thrive, expand and teem with life”, said Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.
Van Schalkwyk said that public comment had been taken into account in creating the new protected areas, accommodating people’s concerns as far as possible without compromising the conservation objectives of the areas.
In the case of the Table Mountain National Park marine protected area, for example, a concession was made for snoek fishermen off Llundudno, while the boundaries of the Cape of Good Hope Sanctuary area were changed to accommodate small-scale rock lobster fishermen “in a way that will still protect rock lobsters and other elements of the ecosystem”.
Marine protected areas allow for the conservation of natural environments, while assisting in the management of fisheries by protecting and rebuilding economically important stocks.
In addition, many of the protected areas will be used to develop and regulate coastal eco-tourism opportunities, with activities such as sport diving regulated but not prohibited in the new protected areas.
This will ensure that vulnerable eco-systems, such as the Aliwal Shoal, are protected for the enjoyment of current and future generations, and that users can expect world-class experiences.
Enforcing the new areas
One of the most important aspects of the new marine protected areas, Van Schalkwyk said, would be compliance and enforcement.
“Naturally we prefer communities and industries to assist in conservation – in their own long-term interests – but we will also act swiftly against those who do not respect the new restrictions.”
As part of this enforcement, the government will, in October, take delivery of the first of four new environmental patrol vessels, purchased at a cost of R500-million.
“We will also expand our force of Fishing Control Officers, and we aim to engage another 200 Honorary Officers in the next 12 to 18 months”, Van Schalkwyk said.
“Another leg of our enforcement strategy will be to expand the work of our specialised Environmental Courts – with a new court planned for Gauteng in the near future.
“In helping us to change attitudes towards the ocean, marine protected areas represent one of our last, best hopes for ensuring the preservation of our marine and coastal riches.”
Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area
The Aliwal Shoal, a sub-tidal reef situated 5km off the Kwazulu-Natal south coast near Umkomaas, supports a spectacular coral community, including 15 species of hard corals and four species of soft corals. The diverse fish fauna is a popular attraction for scuba divers, fishermen and spear-fishermen. Many endangered species of endemic reef fish are found on the shoal, as well as ragged-tooth and tiger sharks.
The Aliwal Shoal has been the site of great conflict between user groups in the past. Agreements have now been reached with respect to partitioning of use between fishing, scuba and spear-fishing.
The protected area will serve many functions, including conservation of the unique reef fauna, control of user-conflict and development of a world-renowned diving site.
“Aliwal Shoal has long been in need of protection”, Van Schalkwyk said. “The diving industry in particular will benefit, and KwaZulu-Natal will add another well-managed natural resource to its already impressive list of tourist destinations.”
Pondoland Marine Protected Area
The coastline between Port St Johns and the Mtamvuna River and the adjacent offshore area has a unique mix of tropical and temperate eco-systems. There is a high rate of species turnover within similar habitats, and a high proportion of species are endemic to the region. The area also includes a range of marine and coastal habitats, with two substantial estuaries being fully protected for the first time in South Africa.
From a fisheries perspective, many over-exploited linefish species spawn here. The inter-tidal shellfishery also needs to be brought under control, as many areas have been stripped of the larger molluscs. A zoned protected area, in which exploitation is permitted in some areas, will provide the necessary protection while allowing fishing to continue elsewhere.
The Pondoland Marine Protected Area will be one of South Africa’s largest, and arguably its most spectacular. Including 90km of coastline and extending approximately 15km out to sea, it covers 1 300 square kilometres.
The extremely narrow continental shelf off Pondoland marks the start of the annual sardine run, which National Geographic has rated as the most exciting diving opportunity in the world. The development of tourism in this impoverished region is a priority, and the protected area is the first step in realising the potential of this scenic coastline.
Bird Island Marine Protected Area
The protection of the Bird Island group (Bird, Seal and Stag Islands) in Algoa Bay is the first step in the seaward extension of the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.
Bird Island is home to several species of red-data listed seabirds – including the Cape gannett, roseatte tern and African penguin – while the reefs around the islands are important for abalone and linefish.
Bird Island has been the target of abalone poachers, and the immediate protection of the islands is regarded as a priority.
Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area
The Table Mountain (formerly Cape Peninsula) National Park Marine Protected Area includes all of the coastal waters around the Cape Peninsula, from Mouille Point in the west to Muizenberg in the east. It is situated in the transition zone between two bio-geographic provinces – the cool temperate Namaqua province to the west and the warm temperate south coast province to the east.
This is one of the most diverse and productive stretches of coastline in South Africa. The Cape Peninsula is also rich in marine species endemic to southern Africa, some of which are even endemic to this change-over region. It is also the area that has the longest history of commercial fishing in South Africa.
“The expansion of Table Mountain National Park to include the sea around the Cape Peninsula is an ambitious development aimed at protecting the rich marine life along these shores, and ensuring the continuation of the important fishing industries and associated lifestyles it in the midst of a dense metropolitan area”, Van Schalkwyk said.
The proximity of a large metropolitan area provides great challenges and opportunities for marine conservation. The exploitation of natural resources along the Cape Peninsula coastline is an important source of recreation, employment and food.
The shores of the Cape Peninsula are one of the great tourist attractions of Cape Town. To swim among penguins at Boulders Beach is a world-class attraction, while Coral Gardens offers some of the most spectacular temperate-water scuba diving in the world.
Unfortunately, the intensity of harvesting on the peninsula has exceeded the capacity of many of the fish species to replace themselves, and many are severely over-exploited. The marine and coastal eco-systems surrounding the Cape Peninsula need to be protected from further degradation, and given the chance to recover, and the exploitation of over-fished species must be reduced.
The protected area will be an extension of the Table Mountainn National Park, and will include six areas that are closed to fishing – for the protection of abalone, rock lobster, linefish, penguins and scuba diving sites – whereas the majority of the protected area will still be open to fishing.
Proposed Namaqualand Marine Protected Area
The marine habitats of the west coast of South Africa are poorly represented in protected areas. The existing West Coast National Park protects primarily the Langebaan Lagoon, which is atypical of the west coast.
A biologically rich and representative area of the little-known west coast has been selected, giving a proposed protected area extending from the inter-tidal area between the Groen and Spoeg rivers out to sea to include Child’s Bank and the 1000m isobath.
If designated, the Namaqualand Marine Protected Area will be South Africa’s largest marine protected area at 9 700 square kilometres.
Although most of this area is too deep to dive – and too cold – the habitat supports economically important species such as shallow and deep water hake, kingklip, monkfish, rock lobster and tuna.
The proposed area also includes habitat that may be threatened by trawling and mining activities, and would therefore provide valuable reference sites for research.