South Africa Announces Plan for Large Offshore MPA

MPA News

In May, the South African government announced its intent to designate a large, multiple-use MPA around the Prince Edward Islands - two islands in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean located roughly 1770 km southeast of mainland South Africa. The Prince Edward Islands MPA would total 180,633 km2 in area, covering one-third of South Africa's EEZ around the islands. The MPA would include a no-take Sanctuary Zone (4400 km2) as well as other zones with various use restrictions. Bottom-trawling and gillnetting would be banned throughout the site. The proposal is open for public comment until 6 July 2009.

MPA News spoke with Alan Boyd, a Deputy Director in South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), about the proposed MPA:

MPA News: The Prince Edward Islands have been subject to substantial poaching in the past. Considering the remoteness of the islands, how does the South African government anticipate enforcing the regulations of the proposed MPA?

Alan Boyd: In addition to our Navy, South Africa has a deep-sea environmental protection vessel (the Sarah Baartman), an offshore research vessel (the Africana), and the Antarctic supply vessel SA Agulhas, which visits the region annually for approximately a month. In terms of the proposal, two South African fishing vessels will be permitted to fish in the area, with observers on board, and they are in the region for several months. Together, the government vessels and two permitted fishing vessels will constitute a significant surveillance presence in the region. But we will also rely on support from other nations in alerting us and, when appropriate, assisting us in enforcing regulations. The enhanced protection status will also allow greater penalties against transgressors. This MPA is a test case to pilot international cooperation, including in the areas of monitoring, surveillance, compliance, and research.

MPA News: What are the specific conservation goals associated with the core Sanctuary Area, which would extend 12 nm from the coast of the islands?

Boyd: The conservation goals are to ensure a very high level of protection to the whole of this sub-Antarctic island ecosystem, and in particular Prince Edward Island which is still a pristine, uninhabited environment. [Editor's note: The other island in the archipelago is Marion Island, where there is a small research and weather station.] In the Sanctuary Area, the marine habitat, seafloor, and all species will be protected - invertebrates, fish, sea birds, and marine mammals - thus linking up with protection of the interdependent terrestrial environment and its species. The Sanctuary Area itself lies in the center of four larger restricted areas that will also provide a high degree of protection to different habitats.

MPA News: South Africa approved a National Protected Area Expansion Strategy (NPAES) this year. In what ways does the proposed MPA address issues raised in the Strategy?

Boyd: The NPAES has the goal of achieving cost-effective protected area expansion to sustain biodiversity and ecological processes, as well as resilience to climate change. The proposed MPA supports all these. The MPA is underpinned by a detailed science plan, and has been supported by a draft management and compliance plan. It will provide South Africa with our first MPA in the "offshore" environment. It also follows the Strategy in protecting a representative set of habitat types.

MPA News: What percentage of South African waters would be within MPAs if this MPA is designated?

Boyd: The percentage of South African waters in MPAs is currently measured in two ways in the NPAES - namely, by coastline length and by area. In addition there are the concepts of total protection of marine living resources, and partial protection where there is harvesting in certain areas and/or of certain species. In terms of coastline length, the percentage under total protection in South African MPAs would increase from 9% to 13%, whereas the area of South African waters within MPAs [with either total or partial protection] would increase from less than 1% to over 10%.

For more information:

Alan Boyd, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Cape Town, South Africa. E-mail: Ajboyd [at] deat.gov.za


BOX: Proposed MPA was five years in planning

Five years ago, South Africa's then-Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, first announced governmental intent to declare an MPA in the Prince Edward Islands. Following that announcement, WWF South Africa worked closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to complete a planning and stakeholder consultation process. Plans developed include a legal analysis, spatial conservation plan, and draft management plan. A report containing the plans is available at www.wwf.org.za/?section=Publication_LivingWaters.

When the South African government released its detailed proposal for the MPA last month, Deon Nel, head of the WWF Sanlam Living Waters Partnership, called it an historic day for marine conservation. "All of South Africa's current MPAs are located very close inshore," said Nel. "The commitment of the first large offshore MPA moves South Africa into a new era of marine conservation."

For more information: Deon Nel, WWF South Africa, Stellenbosch, South Africa. E-mail: dnel [at] wwf.org.za