WWF-SA calls for a more inclusive approach to managing Africa’s oldest MPA



Posted on 28 January 2016
First created in 1964, the Tsitsikamma MPA is the marine equivalent of the Kruger National Park.
© John Duncan
WWF South Africa is calling for broader and more inclusive national dialogue on South Africa’s marine protected areas (MPAs) amongst key role players across the sector.

This comes as the Department of Environmental Affairs is considering a proposal to open approximately 20% of the Western Cape’s Tsitsikamma marine protected area to recreational fishing.

The Department’s proposal – which closes for comment on 1 February 2016 – would see local recreational anglers allowed to fish in four specified zones within Africa’s oldest, and arguably one of its most ecologically valuable, MPAs. It is also currently South Africa’s largest ‘no-take’ MPA, making it home to many productive breeding fish that produce millions of new fish each season.

First created in 1964, the Tsitsikamma MPA is the marine equivalent of the Kruger National Park. It is both a natural asset and a major tourist drawcard. Among other reasons, the MPA was created to provide a breeding reserve for linefish species that are unique to South Africa such as black musselcracker and red steenbras, many of which have stocks below 5% of their original levels.

The MPA also plays a key role in increasing the abundance and size of resident fish species within the ‘no-take’ zone. Research has shown that fisheries outside of an MPA benefit significantly in that they receive fish eggs and larvae from the MPA.

While the ecological arguments are in favour of retaining the MPA’s ‘no-take’ status, it is important to recognise that protected areas can compromise the ability of coastal communities - living in and adjacent to these areas - to access the resources which they traditionally relied upon for their livelihoods and food security.

“In South Africa, where many protected areas were declared prior to 1994, the lack of consultation with affected communities during the creation and management of these MPAs has further resulted in an antagonistic relationship between the conservation sector and these local communities. Over the past decade, as pressures have increased on resources and communities, increasing conflicts have resulted in higher levels of poaching within many MPAs, protracted legal battles and in some cases, even the loss of human lives has occurred. In such situations, nobody wins,” says John Duncan, Senior Manager for WWF-SA’s Marine Programme.

The long-term resolution of these challenges requires that the Department adopt an inclusive and holistic approach to marine conservation. This needs to not only recognise the value that healthy oceans provide to society, but should at the same time ensure that the costs and the benefits of marine protection are equitably and proportionately shared. It is for this reason that the Department’s current approach to the rezonation of Tsitsikamma MPA is of particular concern.

Prior to the gazetting of the draft rezoning regulations, there has been little to no engagement with the marine and social science community outside of the local municipality to interrogate the range of different management options for this area. It is therefore not clear where the current proposal comes from and to what extent the socio-economic and ecological implications associated with opening these sections of the MPA to recreational fishing have been considered.

A 2007 study, commissioned by WWF-SA, on the value of the Garden Route MPAs suggested that from a socio-economic perspective, opening the MPA to even limited fishing would result in economic losses rather than gains. This was largely because the short-term benefits of increased recreational catches within the MPA are outweighed by the economic losses associated with reduced export of fish to adjacent recreational and commercial fisheries as well as lower tourism revenues with the MPA.

Another SANParks report suggests that local communities desire, among other things, active participation in the management of the MPA through democratically elected representatives, benefit sharing, creation of more job opportunities by park management, free and increased access and regular communication from conservation officials to the neighbouring communities. It is not clear whether or not any of these where considered before deciding to open the MPA.

Considering the complexity of these challenges and the precedent that such a decision may set, it is critical to ensure that all stakeholder’s voices are heard. Given that many of the current challenges associated with coastal MPAs stem from an (historical) failure of authorities to consult with all of the key stakeholders, WWF-SA is strongly urging the Department to engage openly with a transparent, participatory and science-based process before deciding on the future of this important national asset. In short, two identical, but opposite, wrongs do not make things right.

“If we have learnt anything from the last century of conservation, it is that without the support and buy-in of critical stakeholders from all sides of the spectrum, regulations are worth no more than the paper they are written on,’’ concludes Morné du Plessis, CEO for WWF-SA.
First created in 1964, the Tsitsikamma MPA is the marine equivalent of the Kruger National Park.
© John Duncan Enlarge
Tsitsikamma MPA
© WWFSA Enlarge