Marine Protected Areas within the Cape Floristic Kingdom
The Cape Floristic Kingdom is blessed with some of the most diverse marine ecosystems on the planet. It is where the cold nutrient rich waters of the Benguela current upwell and mix with the warmer tropical Agulhas current. It is also where cold polar seas push northwards in huge storms during the winter months. Together these three ocean forces drive the pattern and process of an incredibly rich diversity of life. These oceans play a critical role in regulating our climate and providing food, resources and other ecosystem services to society.
Advancing technology and progressive over-exploitation of our marine resources has led to the rapid expansion of the human footprint on our oceans. Today, some 75% of the worlds commercial fish stocks are either fully or partially overexploited and even in South Africa, at least 15 of our most important commercial line-fish are at severe risk of collapse.
One of the strategies to combat this over-exploitation is to proclaim Marine Protected Areas (MPA). A Marine Protected Area is an area of sea and coastline that is especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biodiversity and its natural and cultural resources by being managed in a structured and legal manner. Different levels of MPA also exist and vary from complete no-take zones where nothing may be disturbed, caught or removed, such as at the De Hoop MPA in the southern Cape, through to partial-take MPAs such as the Goukamma Marine Protected Area which has a suite of regulations that determine what activities may take place in which zone. By establishing MPAs we can help to restore balance in the use of our oceans, safeguarding fish stocks and protecting marine habitats while providing long-term solutions for communities living adjacent to the sea.
If properly designed and managed MPAs play vitally important roles in protecting marine habitats and biodiversity through:
- Conserving representative areas of marine biodiversity and ecosystems
- Protecting critical sites for the reproduction and growth of species
- Allowing sites to recover from the stresses of exploitation and other human-related impacts
- Providing settlement and growth areas for marine species so as to provide for spillover of these species into surrounding exploited areas
- Providing areas for marine-based environmental education and for raising awareness regarding marine related issues
- Providing sites for nature-based tourism which is carried out in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner
- Providing undisturbed sites for scientific research which allow for long-term monitoring that can help guide the management of the MPAs and provide a benchmark for comparison against exploited areas.
With regard to fisheries management, MPAs can provide benefits by protecting specific life stages of commercially important species and in many cases protect the spawning and/or nursery grounds. These spawning grounds then act as dispersion centers for the supply of eggs and larvae into the fishing grounds. Through habitat protection, feeding grounds can also be protected. With an increase in abundance and biomass of commercially important fish species within MPAs, subsequent spillover of these species into adjacent exploited areas can benefit local fishing communities by improving catch rates.
As the public increasingly realizes the importance of Marine Protected Areas, it is hoped that they will play an ever more important role in the protection of the common marine heritage of all South Africans and that there will be an increased willingness to participate and play a part in decision making.
First published on 17/11/14