Although the oceans play a critical role in regulating our climate and providing food and other services, less than 4% are formally protected compared to some 15% of our terrestrial areas.
Never before has the health of the oceans been more fragile, and more essential to our wellbeing.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a critical tool not only to address many of the threats to marine and coastal ecosystems, but also to meet a wide range of human needs including education, fisheries management, recreation, income generation and research. MPAs are an important tool for fisheries management.
The efficiency of MPAs at building up spawning stocks of commercially important species within their boundaries and increasing catches for local fisheries outside their boundaries has been well documented. MPAs are not only useful tools for effective fisheries management and species protection, they also provide significant benefits in the form of ecosystem services such as coastal protection, waste assimilation and flood management. If properly designed and managed, MPAs can play vitally important roles in protecting marine habitats and biodiversity through.
Managed by provincial conservation agencies, from CapeNature to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, there are 24 marine protected areas in South Africa which include a range of ‘no-take’ zones (where no fishing is allowed) and ‘controlled’ areas (where limited fishing activities are allowed). Each of these areas plays a different role in protecting critical habitats or species and/ or providing pristine areas for eco-tourism and research. The most recent and biggest of which is South Africa’s first offshore marine protected area, the Prince Edward Islands in the Southern Ocean.
We need more of these protected areas in the right places, where the conservation need is most urgent and where the potential for their contribution – for both humans and wildlife – is at its highest. However, marine protected areas are not without their challenges and it is important to ensure that they deliver meaningful long-term benefits for all members of society.
Through initiatives like the MPA Forum and creating the Guidelines for Integrating Human Dimensions into MPA Planning and Management, WWF is working with government, local communities and other stakeholders to develop co-operative and collaborative management approaches which recognise the challenges of balancing all the different user’s need.
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