Ocean stewardship | WWF South Africa

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Ocean stewardship

The oceans are used for fishing, recreation, commerce and transportation among others uses. They also provide a wealth of natural resources, from fish to minerals. Our oceans are becoming ever more crowded spaces, and with this growing pressure come a number of environmental and social impacts as well as complex challenges.

What is the issue?

Coastal fishing communities are losing both their livelihoods and way of life, and offshore mining of the sea floor threatens the very foundation of our oceans.

These two examples illustrate how managing the multiple uses of our oceans and coasts remains a major challenge. Various activities have been regulated, though often reactively and independently of each other. We now have a patchwork of laws and institutions that do not cover various ocean sectors and which have resulted in escalating unsustainable resource use, pollution and habitat destruction.

There is a need to take a more comprehensive and holistic approach to marine resource management – broadly known as integrated ocean management.

In order to achieve sustainable development of coastal and ocean areas, management of these ecosystems needs to include the full range of interactions including relevant social systems.

​What are we doing?

WWF identifies the most significant and sensitive ocean places for both wildlife and people and we work to implement solutions that conserve the marine environment and ensure its long term productivity.

How do we do this?

We protect areas of importance through the identification and declaration of marine protected areas or MPAs. These pristine sanctuaries are essential for research and ecotourism and they help to protect breeding species within their boundaries by preventing or limiting fishing. Through nature’s spillover effect, MPAs also benefit the catches of local fishers outside the MPA boundary.

WWF supports the good governance of these nature reserves of the sea by hosting an annual MPA forum and co-ordinating a learning community amongst provincial MPA managers.

We also participate in developing key policies and input into national processes to ensure integrated spatial planning of the marine environment, taking into consideration the need to grow South Africa’s economy while protecting the natural resources that provide for so many.

​Who do we work with?

Of South Africa’s 24 coastal MPAs, WWF supports the various MPA management authorities - municipalities, provincial conservation agencies and SANParks. And, through a formal partnership, WWF works closely with government who fund these management authorities. 

We also work directly with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), as well as coastal communities and other connected stakeholders to develop co-operative management approaches. 

What are the big wins?

  1. In 2013, following an investment over two decades, WWF was instrumental in driving the declaration of South Africa’s biggest offshore MPA – thus protecting a coastline of nearly 2 000 kilometres around the Prince Edward Islands in the Southern Ocean.
  2. Every three years an assessment is done on the state of the management of MPAs which is co-ordinated by WWF. This allows for incremental improvement and for the big issues to be addressed. WWF also outputted guidelines on the human dimensions of MPAs in 2014. 
  3. WWF’s experts made key inputs to the government’s operation Phakisa which was about unlocking the ocean economy,  with WWF adding our voice that this is done in a sustainable and with ambitious targets to protect the areas that most need protecting. A goal was set to increase South Africa's MPAs to 10% of our ocean area.
  4. In 2018, WWF congratulated all who worked behind the scenes to provide additional protection to our oceans.  20 MPAs including new mid-ocean and the expansion of the existing MPAs were officially declared in 2019. This has increased South Africa’s MPA footprint tenfold from 0,5 to 5%.