SA declares first offshore protected area

12 April 2013

The Department of Environmental Affairs has declared South Africa’s first offshore marine protected area (MPA), over the Prince Edward Islands, as part of its efforts to protect the country’s offshore and deep ocean areas.

“The Prince Edward Islands MPA is a significant contribution to the conservation of global biodiversity,” Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said in a statement on Tuesday.

It forms part of the country’s National Protected Areas strategy, which aims to structure how protected areas are declared in order to maximise conservation benefits.

The strategy highlighted South Africa’s lack of offshore protected areas and suggested the Prince Edward Islands – almost 2 000 kilometres off the country’s mainland – for protection.

“The new MPA is intended to contribute to the protection of unique species, habitats and ecosystem processes,” Molewa said.

“It will also provide scientific reference points that can inform the future management of the area and to be able to understand better the impacts of climate change on the whole Southern Ocean.

‘Ecologically sustainable marine resources’

“It will also contribute to integrated and ecologically sustainable management of marine resources of the area,” she said.

Under the MPA there will be three zones: a 12 nautical mile sanctuary (no take) zone; four restricted zones, where fishing is limited; and a controlled zone to link the four restricted zones.

The sanctuary zone was designated to preserve the ecosystem and enable the recovery of islands’ toothfish populations. “

“The MPA will still allow limited utilisation of Patagonian toothfish resources by South African vessels outside the sanctuary area,” the department said.

It will be tightly controlled though. “The marine biodiversity of the Prince Edward Islands is of global importance.”

Three species of seals, four species of penguin and five of albatross breed on the islands and the MPA will enable their preservation.

“Given the scarcity of land masses in the Southern Ocean, sub-Antarctic islands contain vast populations of seals and seabirds, which use these islands to breed and moult,” the department said.

“This means that these islands are critical to the conservation of such species as they are forced to aggregate in high densities where they are vulnerable to disturbance and the threat of introduced predators or pathogens.”

SAinfo reporter