Robben Island joins list of 20 new protected marine sites in South Africa

South Africa’s Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries recently declared 20 marine sites as protected areas. One of them is Robben Island, the site of the prison where anti-apartheid activists including Nelson Mandela were jailed for decades. The Conversation’s Nontobeko Mtshali asked Alison Kock to explain the significance and what the decision means for the area and surrounding environment.

What is a marine protected area and are these unique to South Africa?

Marine protected areas are geographically distinct regions of the ocean that are given special protection under law. They are used worldwide to address over-exploitation of marine resources and safeguard them for future generations.

In the context of South Africa, marine protected areas are used to protect marine species, habitats and cultural heritage. They’re also designed to restore over-exploited marine stocks, promote research and eco-tourism and protect coastal and offshore habitats. South Africa has 136 coastal and marine habitat types, from the coastal nesting grounds of leatherback and loggerhead turtles of iSimangaliso, to the unique coral and gravel habitats of the Amathole Offshore marine protected area. The addition of the new protected area network means that 90% of these habitat types are now protected.

South African marine experts combined the best available scientific information, strategic thinking and a strong participatory process to create a network of marine protected areas that conserves ecosystems, rather than individual species.

What’s the significance of a site being declared as a marine protected area?

South Africa already had 23 marine protected areas. It’s nearly doubled this by adding a new network of 20 under an initiative to unlock the country’s blue economy known as Operation Phakisa. This means that 5.4% of South Africa’s territorial waters are now conserved, compared to 0.4% before the new network was proclaimed.

It falls short of the 10% goal by 2020 that is promoted by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The goal is a global call to action to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems. Despite the country’s short fall, it’s better than the global average of 3.6%.

Furthermore, a global review of 144 scientific studies found that for marine wildlife to be adequately conserved and for people to continue to benefit from the ocean, 30% of the ocean needs to be protected by 2030.

What are the environmental, social and economic affects of doing this?

Marine protected areas should have ecological, social and economic goals. The way these protected areas are identified and managed has improved over the years. In the past, marine protected areas were often declared using only environmental criteria. There was little or no contribution from local communities and other stakeholders. This led to conflict between people who depended on the regions to make a living and those trying to enforce the protected area status. Ultimately, this had a negative impact on the effectiveness of trying to protect areas.

But that’s changing. Now the process of declaring a new marine protected area network involves extensive consultations between various industries. These include fisheries, mining, aquaculture, tourism industries and local communities.

The impact on communities — economically and socially — differs as each marine protected area has its own set of priority objectives. Take Robben Island, located in Table Bay adjacent to the City of Cape Town, which is on the latest list. It has three priority objectives: to protect the breeding and feeding area of endangered seabirds like African penguins, to help rebuild important abalone and west coast rock lobster stocks, and to promote the area for tourism and protect the area’s cultural heritage.

What’s supposed to be done now? Are there monitoring and evaluation measures in place? Does South Africa have the capacity to do this properly?

There’s a real danger that the protections won’t be enforced – or become paper parks. This is when marine protected areas only exist on maps and in legislation, but offer little real protection.

To avoid this happening marine protected areas have to be adequately funded, staffed and have community support. In addition, monitoring programmes must be put in place. These must measure whether marine protected areas meet their ecological, economic and social objectives. This needs to be coupled with an effective compliance and enforcement strategy.

Generally speaking, marine conservation and protection are underfunded in South Africa and sustainable funding models haven’t yet been developed. But with the support of other government departments, South African Police Services, industries and NGOs, the country’s managed to implement compliance and long-term monitoring programmes.

An example of an effective, long-term monitoring programme is the multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional project in Algoa Bay that monitors ecosystem change. The project is important because it generates essential knowledge for site management and sustainable development.

But more needs to be done. New innovative technologies such as vessel monitoring systems, remote cameras and drones should be used for better surveillance and effective compliance. In addition, marine protected area management has to take a more human-centred approach and the benefits of protected areas have to be shared more equitably.

The Betty’s Bay marine protected area recently employed local community members to help scientists and managers monitor fish populations. This has led to a greater understanding of the goals of the protected area and improved the relationship between the community and management authority.

Alison Kock, Marine Biologist, South African National Parks (SANParks); Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa, University of Cape Town, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Alison Kock 1
Guest Author

Related stories

On bioclimatic architecture: ‘We have our own science, but we have forgotten how to transmit it’

This conversation between Mpho Matsipa and Mamadou Jean-Charles Tall, focusing on bio-climatic architecture in Senegal, is part of the larger African Mobilities project

How to build a women-powered, green-energy transition

As the globe moves towards greener energy practices, more women must be included in this new growth sector, for the benefit of all

We sacrifice for Covid, so we can fight global warming

We just have to ask ourselves if we are as willing to sacrifice to save our grandchildren as we have shown ourselves to be when it came to trying to save older people, the sick and the poor from Covid-19

UN special rapporteur on the environment joins local air pollution case

The state is facing a court battle about big industry’s emissions and their link to poor health. This is a public health concern and the government must take action to save lives

Editorial: We can’t breathe toxic air

Everyone is affected by pollution, but it is the poorest — black people — who paid and still pay the price

Covid-19 clarifies climate crisis

Unlike the virus, there is no treatment for global warming except to immediately abandon economic activities that cause it

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday