SA must do more for its na­tional parks at sea

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - LAU­REN VAN NIJKERK

MA­RINE pro­tected ar­eas (MPAS) are bi­o­log­i­cally spec­tac­u­lar – not only are they a haven for a va­ri­ety of species, but they are also crit­i­cal for cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion and food se­cu­rity.

South Africa des­per­ately needs to in­crease its MPA foot­print, which is sit­ting at only 0.4%.

While coun­tries around the world, no­tably Brazil, Mex­ico and Chile, have moved to pro­tect their oceans, South Africa is lag­ging far be­hind.

On March 20, Brazil an­nounced the des­ig­na­tion of four new ma­rine pro­tected ar­eas around the Trindade-martin Vaz and the São Pe­dro and São Paulo ar­chi­pel­a­gos, two re­gions in the South At­lantic. The MPAS cover an area of more than 900 000km2 – larger than France, Eng­land, Bel­gium, the Nether­lands and Switzerlan­d com­bined.

On Novem­ber 24, 2017, Mex­ico an­nounced it would pro­tect 91 732km2 of the ocean around the Revil­lagigedo Is­lands from fish­ing and re­source ex­trac­tion. This re­serve is the largest ma­rine pro­tected area cre­ated in the Amer­i­cas, in­clud­ing off­shore wa­ters which sup­port 366 species of fish as well as 37 species of rays and sharks, func­tion as calv­ing grounds for hump­back whales and sup­port coral gar­dens and a range of other rel­a­tively pris­tine ma­rine ecosys­tems.

Both fol­lowed the lead set by Chile where, dur­ing her ten­ure, Pres­i­dent Michelle Bachelet se­cured pro­tec­tion of more than 1 000 000km2 of their wa­ters – more than 40%. This Latin Amer­i­can ocean pro­tec­tion lead­er­ship fol­lows clear sci­ence that shows the im­por­tance of these na­tional parks at sea to build re­silience as well as to re­vi­talise the abun­dance and diver­sity of ma­rine fish stocks.

A num­ber of other coun­tries are fol­low­ing suit, with the Sey­chelles be­ing South Africa’s clos­est neigh­bour to take ac­tion, pro­tect­ing 210 000km2 in Fe­bru­ary this year, as well as com­mit­ting to in­creas­ing the area of its ma­rine pro­tec­tion from 0.04% to 30% by 2022.

The two new pro­tected ar­eas an­nounced ear­lier this year mean that the coun­try is more than half­way to meet­ing this goal, with 16% of its wa­ters fully pro­tected. De­spite this, pro­tec­tion of Africa’s oceans is lag­ging far be­hind most other parts of the world.

South Africa cur­rently has a net­work of 24 coastal MPAS cov­er­ing only 0.4% of the con­ti­nen­tal ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ) and one sub-antarc­tic MPA (Prince Ed­ward Is­lands).

When South Africa’s ma­rine pro­tected ar­eas were sur­veyed along­side 39 de­vel­oped coun­tries, they ranked 34th out of 40, with an av­er­age of 11.2% for the other coun­tries. This is ac­cord­ing to the UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme’s World Data­base on Pro­tected Ar­eas.

It fur­ther states that when South Africa was sur­veyed to­gether with 129 de­vel­op­ing coun­tries it ranked 90th out of 130 – which had an av­er­age of 5.8% com­pared with South Africa’s measly 0.4%.

“(South Africa’s) 0.4% is hope­lessly in­ad­e­quate to main­tain sus­tain­able ben­e­fits in a grow­ing ocean econ­omy,” said Wild Oceans ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Dr Jean Harris.

“A min­i­mum tar­get agreed to as a global stan­dard is 10% ma­rine pro­tec­tion, with South Africa com­mit­ting to achiev­ing this by 2020.

“As an in­terim step, in 2016 the DEA (De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs) pub­lished (its) in­ten­tion to gazette 22 new/ex­panded MPAS to achieve a 5% pro­tec­tion. Al­though a rel­a­tively mod­est ad­vance, this will see the pro­tec­tion for 43 ecosys­tem types and nine of the 15 crit­i­cally en­dan­gered ecosys­tem types, all cur­rently un­pro­tected.

“This will also see ben­e­fits to fish­eries, in­clud­ing the pro­tec­tion of nurs­ery and spawn­ing ar­eas, re­source re­cov­ery and the man­age­ment of es­sen­tial fish habi­tat,” she said.

“Ma­rine parks are about more than just a haven for the species that live in them. These na­tional parks at sea are crit­i­cal cli­mate-change fight­ing tools and help sup­port food se­cu­rity,” said Karen Sack, managing di­rec­tor of Ocean Unite.

“The ocean is a mas­sive car­bon sink, and sci­ence is now demon­strat­ing that ma­rine re­serves slow the ef­fects of cli­mate change, re­build bio­di­ver­sity and help build re­silience,” Slack said.

“Like Mex­ico, Chile, Brazil and the Sey­chelles, gov­ern­ments can af­firm their in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments to com­bat­ing cli­mate change, se­cur­ing jobs and food through the cre­ation of ma­rine re­serves – or cli­mate re­serves.”

There is an ur­gent need to gain strate­gic wins for ma­rine con­ser­va­tion in African wa­ters that will catal­yse ac­tion across the re­gion, said Harris.

In 2014, South Africa em­barked on a fast-track process to achieve an in­terim 5% by 2016, fol­lowed an addi5% by

by tional 2020. Un­for­tu­nately, this process has stalled, with stake­hold­ers rais­ing con­cerns that this hia­tus is due to un­due in­flu­ence from the ex­trac­tive mining sec­tor which is seen as one of the main driv­ers for un­lock­ing South Africa’s “ocean econ­omy”.

Of note is that the De­part­ment of En­ergy in re­cent years placed 98% of South Africa’s EEZ un­der acreage lease for oil and gas ex­plo­ration or pro­duc­tion rights, and there is talk of new mining op­por­tu­ni­ties for phos­phate ex­trac­tion and other seabed min­er­als.

En­cour­ag­ingly, the drive to achieve a 10% (and more) MPA tar­get ap­pears well sup­ported at the most se­nior lev­els in the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs and aligns with South Africa’s Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan out­comes and in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments at the UN.

Fur­ther, South Africa has re­cently as­sumed the role of chair of the In­dian Ocean Rim As­so­ci­a­tion and there is a timely op­por­tu­nity for South Africa to lead the way to es­tab­lish­ing MPA ex­pan­sion as a key blue econ­omy ocean gov­er­nance goal within the African re­gion. – Wildtrust

Van Nijkerk is a di­rec­tor of Wildtrust, for­merly the Wild­lands Con­ser­va­tion Trust.

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