WWF – Marine Protected Areas by Peter Chadwick
Conservation and the outdoors run deep in my blood and I have spent all my working life trying hard to protect our special places and the amazing biodiversity that they hold. My latest position as the programme manager for the WWF Honda Marine Parks Programme is perhaps one of the most important posts that I have held to date as there is no denying that our oceans and coasts are under tremendous pressure and need all the help that they can get.
Our oceans are critical to our very existence: it’s a simple equation of healthy oceans = healthy people. Besides providing us with food oceans provide us with many other important services that our survival depends upon. They maintain our renewable supply of fresh water through the water cycle, regulate our climate, and produce more oxygen than the world’s rainforests. In addition to being an important source of protein, many marine organisms have been found to provide therapeutic uses in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-fungal, or antibiotic medicines. Additionally, the marine and coastal ecosystems offer endless recreational opportunities such as sea kayaking, sport fishing, surfing, whale watching and scuba diving – activities which not only feed our souls but also drive economic benefits through employment for local inhabitants.
Although critical to our existence, our oceans are in desperate trouble. Depleted fishery stocks, habitat destruction, pollution, coastal development, climate change and invasive species are some of the major issues threatening the healthy existence of our oceans. In the Pacific Ocean, for example, there is an area 1 000 kilometers from theUS coast which is larger than the entire land mass ofSouth Africa and is covered in plastic. It contains six times more plastic than plankton and is growing all the time as more than 10 million tons of plastic finds its way into the sea each year.
Protecting our oceans and coast is more than stopping pollution and regulating fishing. It also means controlling our activities onshore and controlling unregulated coastal development. With all of these poisonous pollutants running into the oceans, ‘dead zones’ have been created where only some of the smallest marine organisms can survive. These areas are created in significant part by synthetic nitrogen fertilizers flowing into the sea and nourishing massive algal blooms which then decay and cause oxygen depletion, killing everything except the hardiest in its vicinity.
As a result of all of this more and more countries are starting to realize the importance of proper management of marine resources, with South Africa being at the forefront of developing long-term strategies for the conservation of marine resources. One of the strategies is to make use of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). It must be remembered, however, that MPAs on their own will not solve all the resource problems, and broader ecosystem-based approaches to fishing must also be carried out. A Marine Protected Area is an area of sea and coastline that is especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biodiversity and natural and cultural resources through being managed in a structured and legal manner. Different levels of MPAs also exist and vary from complete no-take zones where nothing may be disturbed, caught or removed, such as at the Tsitsikamma MPA in the southernCape, through to partial-take MPAs which have a set of regulations that determine what activities may take place in which zone. By establishing MPAs we can help to restore balance in the use of our oceans, safeguarding fish stocks and protecting local habitats while providing long term solutions for communities living adjacent to the sea. If properly designed and managed, MPAs play vitally important roles in protecting marine habitats and biodiversity through:
• conserving representative samples of biodiversity and ecosystems
• protecting critical sites for the reproduction and growth of species
• allowing sites to recover from the stresses of exploitation and other human-related impacts
• providing settlement and growth areas for marine species so as to provide for spillover of these species into surrounding exploited areas
• creating areas for marine-based environmental education and for raising awareness regarding marine-related issues
• establishing sites for nature-based tourism which is carried out in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner, and
• providing undisturbed sites for scientific research which allow long-term monitoring which helps to guide the management of the MPAs.
As the public increasingly realizes the importance of Marine Protected Areas, it is hoped that they will play an ever more important role in the protection of the common heritage of all South Africans and that there will be a willingness to participate and play a part in decision-making. Most of the conservation agencies are hoping to develop volunteer groups that will be able to assist with various marine-related projects. Fishers and other users are asked to find out the specific regulations within the MPAs that they are visiting and to consider more environmentally acceptable methods of fishing, perhaps also partaking in tag and release projects. Marine Protected Areas are an insurance policy towards healthy ocean systems and are also an investment towards the planet’s and our own future wellbeing – please support them!
(Photos : Peter Chadwick)