REEFs and banks

South Africa is blessed with cold and warm temperate reef systems and warm well-lit subtropical coral communities that attract thousands of scuba divers to our shores. Shallow reef ecosystems span three types of coral communities, hard and soft corals in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal; the beautiful soft coral and seaweed habitats of Aliwal shoal in KwaZulu-Natal and vividly coloured temperate reefs colonised by sponges, soft and lace corals, ascidians and more on the south and west coasts. Deep reefs are less explored but recent research has revealed deep seaweed forests on the east coast, high sponge diversity across these ecosystems and more than 300 species of soft corals and seafans, many of which are endemic. Just like fynbos is special on land in South Africa, the lace coral and seafan habitats in the Cape and Agulhas ecoregions are highly diverse and unique to South Africa. These can be considered as our special 'underwater fynbos'.

Reefs and Banks support one of our oldest and most important fisheries, the line fishery, which has commercial, small scale, subsistence and recreational components. This fishery was declared in crisis in 2000 and Marine Protected Areas offer the best management option to support recovery and improved future catches of resident fishes such as the red steenbras, Miss Lucy, dageraad, poenskop or musselcracker, rockcods and roman. Alphard Banks and Protea Banks are sites where fish, sharks and rays gather and where spectacular reef structures support fisheries and eco-tourism. These special places need protection from mining, underwater noise, pollution and any activities that impact the seabed such as trawling and anchor damage. Similarly, although further offshore, Child's Bank is a unique ecosystem type whose sensitive coral-covered slopes have already been impacted by trawling. To maintain its eco-certification, the South African hake trawl fishery has committed to improved management of seabed habitats through support for protected areas in sensitive ecosystems and increased knowledge of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems and the impact of trawling.

Important reefs and banks are included in iSimangaliso MPA, uThukela Banks MPA, Aliwal Shoal Offshore MPA, Protea Banks MPA, Child's Bank MPA, Amathole Offshore MPAAddo Elephant National Park MPA, Benguela Bank MPA, Brown's Banks Corals MPA and Brown's Bank Complex MPA.