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Ocean stewardship
© Thomas P. Peschak

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?

Many coastal fishing communities are losing both their livelihoods and way of life, largely due to overfishing, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, coastal development, and pollution. In addition, climate change impacts and increased interest in offshore mining and the extraction of oil and gas threaten the very foundation of our oceans. 
These 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 do have legislation, with institutions to enforce the law, but a lack of capacity, funding and integration between government departments means it does not cover all ocean sectors, which often results 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 governance, which includes marine spatial planning. 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, in partnership with government and other stakeholders, identifies the significant and sensitive ocean areas for both wildlife and people and we work collectively to implement solutions that conserve the marine environment and ensure its long-term sustainability. 

How do we do this?

We build capacity in the marine space and partner with key stakeholders to protect areas of importance, mostly through the identification and supporting the declaration of marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs are sanctuaries that are essential for research and ecotourism and they help to protect breeding species within their boundaries by preventing various harmful activities like mining or limiting the impact of fishing. Through nature’s spillover effect, MPAs also benefit the catches of local fishers outside the MPA boundary. 
WWF supports good governance, information sharing and capacity building of stakeholders who work in the MPA field by hosting an annual MPA forum, since 2007, and facilitating a learning community between MPA managers and various ocean stakeholders. WWF also developed a training course in 2003/2004, which is delivered to capacitate MPA staff.  

Every five years, WWF conducts MPA assessments – using the management effectiveness tool (METT) – to report on the state of the management effectiveness of each MPA. This allows for the tracking of MPA management effectiveness which shows the incremental improvement or decline of management effectiveness and highlights the big issues to be addressed.  

We also contribute by participating in developing key policies and input into national processes to ensure integrated marine spatial planning, 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 41 mainland MPAs and one overseas territory MPA, WWF supports the MPA management authorities (SANParks, provincial conservation agencies and municipalities) and works closely with national government who fund these authorities. We also work directly with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), 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 MPA – protecting a coastline of nearly 2 000 kilometres around the Prince Edward Islands in the Southern Ocean. 

  2. WWF continues to conduct MPA assessments through a tool it introduced in 2001, the management effectiveness tracking tool (METT), to South African MPAs. This process to monitor MPA management effectiveness was systematically adopted and adapted by government in the ensuing years for all its protected areas. 

  3. WWF’s experts supported the government’s Operation Phakisa which was about unlocking the ocean economy, with WWF adding our voice that this is done in a sustainable way 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. In 2018, WWF congratulated all who worked behind the scenes to provide additional protection to our oceans.  20 MPAs, including new offshore and the expansion of the existing MPAs, were officially declared in 2019. This has increased South Africa’s mainland MPA footprint tenfold from 0,5% to 5,4%. 

  4. In 2021, WWF established the South African Marine Protected Area Network (SAMPAN) that provides support to the MPA sector through co-ordinating capacity-building initiatives for MPA management staff and promoting the sharing of knowledge through the annual hosting of the MPA Forum and curating the MPA Forum website.