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Tsitsikamma MPA

Garden Route, Western Cape, South Africa
Management Authority: South African National Parks

The Tsitsikamma National Park, proclaimed in 1964, is the oldest and largest ‘no-take’ MPA in Africa. It is considered by many to be the marine equivalent of the Kruger National Park. The MPA extends from Groot River West (33°59‟S, 23°34‟E) to the Groot River East (34°04‟S, 24°12‟E) and covers 57 km of coastline with a total surface area of 32 300 hectares .

The majority of this stretch of coastline is rugged with high rocky ridges, but includes boulder bays, subtidal rocky reefs and subtidal sandy benthos. This MPA is a biodiversity hotspot and provides excellent habitat for reef associated plants and animals, including many over-exploited fishery species.

The following research and monitoring programmes are currently being conducted in this MPA:

  • Inshore linefish monitoring and tagging study (South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity)
  • Monitoring of offshore marine fish and invertebrate species (South African Environmental Observation Network; Elwandle Node)
  • Marine alien biota (South African National Parks)
  • The systematics and ecology of South African and Australian fish parasitic gnathiid isopods (University of Johannesburg)
In addition, the MPA hosts several environmental education and cultural activities such as eco-schools, Kids in Parks, and the Khula Nam´ programmes.

Keystone species in the Tsitsikamma National Park
The Tsitsikamma MPA is central in the distributional range of several South African endemic fish species, including many depleted fishery species that are in urgent need of protection. These species include dageraad, red stumpnose, red steenbras, seventy-four, musselcracker, poenskop, white steenbras and dusky kob. Many of the above fish species are slow growing and have life spans exceeding 20 years. To complicate matters some species (e.g. dageraad and poenskop) undergo sexual reversal. Consequently, in these species all males are derived from functional females and are older than 10 years. The exploitation of such population results in the removal of larger individuals, which alters the sex ratio and ultimately their reproductive capacity.

A 15-year tag and release study has revealed that many of the inshore fish species present in the park are extremely resident. Approximately 95% of all recaptured fish remained within the 5 km tag and release research area. This study has also shown that the resident fish populations are older and larger than those in neighbouring exploited areas. The protection of these slow growing long-lived species is essential for ensuring recruitment of younger fish into the marine environment.

Mark and recapture data also suggest that offshore reef fish such as carpenter, roman, dageraad and juvenile red steenbras have a high degree of residency in the park. A telemetry on roman revealed that they maintain very small home ranges of between 1 000 m² and 3 000 m². The slow growth rate and the stenotopic behaviour of this and many other species vulnerable to over-exploitation.

There is no doubt that the Tsitsikamma MPA plays an crucial role in the conservation of many line-fish species, and the biggest challenge facing management is to ensure that this marine refuge is maintained in the face of increasing socio-economic demands.

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