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02 Aug 2021

Keeping SA marine protected areas safe, 27 coastal and island MPAs facing major challenges

The Mercury (IOL) Picture: Morne Hardenberg. Common dolphins hunting. The inaugural Marine Protected Area Day was held yesterday.

DURBAN – As South Africa marked the inaugural Marine Protected Area (MPA) Day yesterday, there was a call to address the challenges affecting these areas.

The recent Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) report, produced by WWF South Africa, said South Africa was recognised as a marine biodiversity hot spot, with close to 13 000 marine species. Moreover, almost a third of all these species recorded are endemic to South Africa, ranking it the third highest in terms of marine species endemism in the world.

One of the most significant roles of MPAs is the protection of spawning and nursery areas that allow for resource recovery to counteract rampant overfishing.

Titled “The SA MPA METT 3 report: State of marine protected area management effectiveness in South Africa”, it tracked six key areas.

According to the report, South Africa’s 27 coastal and island MPAs are facing five major challenges including insufficient funding, staffing and resources, the need for the implementation or improvement of monitoring to track MPA management, insufficient effective law enforcement at MPAs, the need to improve the management of cultural heritage at MPAs and the need to improve public awareness of MPAs, their role in the environment and value to local communities.

André Riley, acting regional general manager: Frontier & Head: Planning & Environmental Co-ordination parks division for SA National Parks (SANParks), agreed that one of the most pressing issues facing MPAs was a lack of public awareness: “Because people can’t see it, they can’t always relate to it which is why more attention needs to be brought to MPAs.”

SANParks, which oversees six MPAs in the country, also faces challenges in terms of poaching and overfishing in regions adjacent to the MPAs.

Dr Judy Mann, conservation strategist at SAAMBR (South African Association for Marine Biological Research), explained that MPA Day was one way to address the challenges outlined in the METT report, by creating greater public awareness of the role of MPAs.