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Protea Banks listed as Marine Protected Areas (MPA)

  Thursday, 01 November 2018
 Shona Aylward (South Coast Herald)
Protea Banks listed as Marine Protected Areas (MPA)

Giving the good news about Protea Banks the thumbs up are (from left) Sandile Mzelemu, Carrie-Lee Phillips, Beulah Mauz and Roland Mauz.

" It’s a massive win for marine conservation in African waters. "

News of Protea Banks and Aliwal Shoal Offshore being listed as two of the 20 new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for South Africa is a major triumph for the South Coast, and for marine conservation.

Currently, Aliwal Shoal MPA exists, but is slated for major expansion (an increase of some 500 km2, from about 120 to 680 km2). Protea Banks will be a new MPA.  Zolile Nqayi of the Department of Environmental Affairs, however confirmed that Protea Banks and Aliwal Shoal Offshore are on the list, but added the declaration has to follow a process of gazetting.  “So while cabinet has approved, they are not officially MPAs yet,” he pointed out.

Acting Minister of Environmental Affairs, Derek Hanekom said this network of 20 MPAs, approved by cabinet on Wednesday, October 24, will considerably advance South Africa’s efforts to protect its ocean heritage for future generations. “They will contribute to fisheries’ sustainability, advance marine ecotourism, and will help maintain resilience in ecosystems that are under stress from climate change.”

It’s a massive win for marine conservation in African waters, as it brings the total protection of the oceans around South Africa up to five percent (from 0,4 percent).  This bold action has been spearheaded by the late Minister Edna Molewa of the Department of Environmental Affairs, who published the intention to declare a network of 22 new/expanded MPAs. Although 22 were proposed, two have fallen off the list.

Work on the new approved network of MPAs dates back to 2014, when the South African government endorsed a plan to achieve, as part of Operation Phakisa: Ocean Economy, a viable network of MPAs.
A broad-based coalition of organisations including WILDOCEANS, Ocean Unite, World Wildlife Fund-SA, Centre for Environmental Rights and the South African Association for Marine Biological Research have been in support of the expansion of South Africa’s MPAs.

In June this year, this coalition launched a campaign called ‘Only This Much’, which seeks to mobilise a regional movement for increased protection across all African national waters and Africa’s Southern Ocean territories. It is determined that the momentum of protection expansion must not slow down and the coalition ultimately wishes to see 10 percent MPAs by 2020 and 30 percent of the oceans around South Africa strongly protected by 2030.

Roland Mauz and his wife, Beulah of African Dive Adventures, based at Shelly Beach, were ecstatic about the news. The couple, who have been diving Protea Banks, which is rated among the world’s top shark diving destinations, for many years and have been waiting a long time for this news.

They also provided support and local insights into the MPA planning process.

“This is fantastic news for all ocean lovers.While the proposed oil and gas drilling is still a threat to us, Protea Banks being declared an MPA has pushed them further away from our coastline,” said Mr Mauz. “Once you have dived off Protea Banks – you don’t want this piece of paradise destroyed,” added Mrs Mauz.  Mr Mauz said that over the years, locals, overseas visitors and scientists, such as Dr Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, have supported the drive to get Protea Banks declared an MPA.

Dr Sink is a scientist who led the Operation Phakisa Oceans Economy MPA technical team in a science-based plan to develop a new network of representative MPAs that cover many of South Africa’s incredible diversity of marine ecosystem types. The MPA network is the culmination of more than 12 years of work.  “A key difference in this planning process is that protection and economic goals have been aligned to deliver a spatially efficient network that benefits people and nature,” said Dr Sink.

Dr Jean Harris of WILDOCEANS said the proposed boundaries of this MPA stretch from the Umzimkulu River in the north to the Mpenjati Estuary in the south but it is largely an offshore MPA that only starts on the 40m depth contour (this means it does not affect shore-based or inshore activities).

The area was identified as part of the Phakisa MPA network due to its many different offshore habitats and species which are found both on the seabed and in the water column. These include:
- This reef system attracts many important line-fish species as well as large numbers of sharks and rays.
· Further off the Protea Banks are a number of deep submarine canyons which contain important deep-reef habitats including cold water coral ecosystems.
· At least seven different shark species are known to aggregate in the area, including giant guitarsharks, hammerheads, bull and tiger sharks which attract many divers to the area.
· The reef systems and productive waters also attract large numbers of gamefish such as tuna and marlin and a number of reef fish species, such as black musselcracker and red steenbras are known to spawn in the area.
· The famous winter sardine run also moves through this area and attracts many tourists, which helps drive the eco-tourism industry along the South Coast.

Dr Harris concluded that all these aspects provided a strong motivation towards the need for better protection of these important ecosystems. “Providing a natural refuge in the form of an MPA on Protea Banks will allow for the recovery of over-exploited species and help maintain the incredible biodiversity of this rich marine ecosystem.”

 

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