What is a Marine Protected Area?
The concept of a Marine Protected Areas (MPA) comes from a globally recognised approach to manage part of the marine environment to help manage fisheries, keep marine ecosystems working properly, and protect the diversity of species living there.
South Africa has a rich heritage of coastal and ocean ecosystems. While our land-based heritage is well protected through various national parks, many important marine areas have not been as widely represented in formal protected areas. However, this is changing as The Department of Environmental Affairs is in the process of declaring new Marine Protected Areas. These MPAs will not only protect our ocean heritage for future generations but support fisheries sustainability, climate adaptation and tourism.
MPAs are so much more than our ocean National Parks because of their role in fisheries sustainability. The returns on having well designed and properly run MPAs can be measured in their economic, environmental and social benefits.
This fact sheet helps explain the role of MPAs in meeting our Ocean economy and Sustainability Goals. MPAs help safeguard the marine environment and the services provided by healthy oceans including food, climate resilience, medicines and other benefits.
In addition to contributing to food and job security, climate resilience and tourism development, MPAs have additional benefits to people. These include educational, cultural, historical and spiritual benefits.
MPAs support fisheries sustainability by protecting spawning and nursery areas, providing areas for resource recovery and through spillover or flow of benefits to adjacent areas. In an increasingly industrialised ocean, MPAs help maintain food and job security provided by the fisheries sector.
Letting life bounce back & seeding new life: many of our fish stocks are severely over-exploited after years of heavy fishing. MPAs allow ecosystems and the creatures and plants living in them to recover. MPAs provide safe spaces in which fish can breed undisturbed, and can protect spawning and nursery areas that let young fish mature into adulthood, without the pressure of fishing.
MPAs are part of our climate change adaptation strategy. Keeping coastal areas healthy provides resilience in ecosystems and armours our shorelines.
Healthy shorelines protect and buffer coastal communities and infrastructure from extreme weather, tsunamis and sea-level rise. Protection now yields future benefits and safeguards the social and economic wellbeing of coastal communities.
Resilient ecosystems and coastal communities
MPAs help maintain resilience in ecosystems under stress from climate and global change. Resilience in ecosystems maintains resilience in coastal communities. MPAs help maintain genetic diversity, critical in maintaining the genes for species to adapt to climate and other changes.
Yardstick for measuring change (RULER)
MPAs help us to understand what a healthy ecosystem looks like. We can use this information to measure change happening in unprotected areas of our coasts or in our ocean waters. These scientific baselines, enable us to measure the impacts of climate change, invasive alien species, or pressure from fishing, mining and other activities outside the MPA. They are living laboratories.
MPAs attract local and international tourists. The African penguin colony at Simonstown, for instance, makes several million Rand each year in ticket sales at the gate. South Africa’s oceans have species that occur nowhere else on earth and offer incredible ocean encounters with seabirds, turtles, sharks, rays and other creatures that local and international tourists come to experience. South Africa’s seascapes include beautiful reefscapes, underwater forests and canyons home to ‘Pre-historic’ coelacanths. Scuba divers report having a much richer diving experience when they don’t have to compete with anglers, as the fish life is more diverse and abundant.
MPAs can provide important alternative sources of income and livelihoods for many people, such as local tour guiding. Jobs associated with the marine wildlife economy, such as scuba diving, shark cage diving, and turtle, bird and whale watching are possible in proximity to protected areas. Local communities can capitalize on the opportunities from the influx of tourists who come to otherwise unknown areas because of their protected status. This allows for entrepreneurial enterprises such as family-run restaurants and ‘home-stay’ type accommodation. MPAs also create jobs linked directly to the park, including game rangers, park managers, gate staff, maintenance staff and in-house educators.
MPAs are wonderful resources for education and provide learning opportunities for environmental education, natural and cultural heritage and fisheries management. They preserve accessible sites for learning such as the beautiful seaweed gardens and fossils in the Trafalgar MPA. Children adjacent to the Maputaland MPA learn about the ecotourism benefits of turtles.
Preservation of Culture and History
Coastlines have cultural and historic meaning for many South Africans - MPAs can help look after the special places, such as archaeological sites, traditional fishing areas and can help maintain cultural practices.