uthukela Banks MPA

"Startling Surprises"



uThukela means “something that startles” in Zulu and this area surprised and amazed South African scientists

When scientists first explored this area using remotely operated vehicles and baited cameras, what they found in this MPA certainly startled them. The largest seventy four seabreams of the century have been seen on the deep reefs of this MPA in addition to large adult poenskop or black musselcracker, yellowbelly and catface rockcods and even seahorses. Fields of seapens – soft corals adapted to living on sand, occur in the muds with thistle corals and amazing seashells living in the gravel beds and between huge underwater dunes. The deep reefs are home to species of seaslug found only on the south and east coast of South Africa, including the beautiful frilled nudibranch that contains powerful compounds useful to fighting oesophagal cancer. More than 40 km offshore, the discovery of a 20 m high rocky pinnacle covered in tall dense yellow seafans and ancient tall black coral trees was a highlight for researchers. These seafans and black corals are slow growing and make excellent indicators to help monitor the state of our oceans. Endangered mud habitats and species that depend on the inflow of water from uThukela, South Africa's second largest river, are protected, as well as the nursery areas and spawning grounds of commercially important fish and shark species. In the past, the prawn trawl fishery caught hundreds of baby hammerhead sharks every year in this area where they hide from larger predators in the rich muddy water. Proclaimed in 2019, this MPA protects fish food stocks for the future and attracts valuable ecotourism to increase the economy surrounding marine wildlife.



  • Protects rare and Threatened seabed habitats (Offshore paleo-estuarine habitat, reefs and submarine canyon)

  • Preserves ecological processes and Connectivity

  • Spawning & nursery areas for overexploited fish species

  • protects Linefish and allows for their recovery