South Africa makes marine conservation history by declaring Prince Edward Islands MPA

McNish Bay on the south coast of Prince Edward Island, typifies much of the steep, rugged nature of the islands' coasts. Image by Peter Ryan, FitzPatrick Institute UCT

WWF South Africa (WWF-SA) is elated over Minister Edna Molewa’s recent formal gazetting of the declaration of the Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) – South Africa’s and the continent’s first offshore MPA. The Islands, which consist of Prince Edward and Marion Islands, are located almost 2,000 kilometres south of South Africa in the Southern Ocean. They form an important global biodiversity hotspot, which was subject to rampant poaching during the late 1990s. At 180,000km2, approximately the combined size of the Free State Province, Lesotho and Swaziland, this MPA is one of the world’s largest.

Dr Morné du Plessis, WWF-SA’s Chief Executive Officer says, “This is a historic day for marine conservation in South Africa. This declaration demonstrates the country’s new commitment to protecting the Prince Edward Islands – an important national heritage and a crown jewel of our oceans. WWF-SA praises the Minister for her visionary leadership and commitment to securing our marine biodiversity for future generations.”

The declaration follows a long and very successful collaboration between WWF-SA and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). It comes almost seven years after South Africa’s then Minister of Environmental Affairs, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, initially announced his intention to declare the MPA.

WWF has worked closely with the DEA to complete a thorough planning and stakeholder consultation process. Plans developed included a legal analysis, spatial conservation plan and a draft management plan. Financing for much of this planning process was obtained from the private sector.

Wandering Albatrosses on the west coast of Prince Edward Island. The islands support some 40% of the world population of this species. Image by Peter Ryan, FitzPatrick Institute UCT

The marine biodiversity of the Prince Edward Islands is of global importance. The Islands are home to a suite of spectacular marine wildlife, including albatrosses, penguins, killer whales and Patagonian toothfish stocks. Unfortunately this wildlife has been threatened by illegal and unsustainable fishing practices in the past, resulting in significant economic and ecological losses to South Africa.

Speaking from WWF’s global headquarters in Gland, Switzerland, Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International, says, “It is inspiring to see such environmental leadership in South Africa, and I applaud Minister Molewa for her vision. Still too little of the world’s precious oceans are protected from exploitation, and this is a landmark victory for marine conservation – and hopefully a sign of more to come.”

“Protection of the Prince Edward Islands is a significant contribution to the conservation of global biodiversity and the fragile Southern Oceans, in particular. The WWF network remains committed to supporting the South African government in ensuring the adequate protection of this area for now and for future generations,” concludes du Plessis.

*The declaration of the Prince Edward Islands MPA can be found here: http://www.info.gov.za/view/DownloadFileAction?id=187611