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How to destroy a marine protected area?

Marine

Are South African National Parks (SANParks) and Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) about to take a decision that may well be the first step in destroying the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (MPA)? There is a belief amongst marine conservationists and scientists that these two departments are seriously considering opening sections of the MPA to fishing.

If true, there are a number of extremely serious issues at play here. Firstly, the manner and approach of government is disconcerting as it would seem that such decision-making is beyond the mandate of these departments. Secondly, a similar attempt was turned down by the then Minister in 2008 – this was based on sound scientific information, provided by government and private sector specialists, indicating the extent of overfishing and resource depletion in areas surrounding the MPA – and nothing has changed in two years to alter this assessment. And lastly, this may take place at a time when the marine protection agencies and their related affiliates are unable to control the plundering of other marine resources elsewhere along South Africa’s coastline. Abalone, shark, crayfish and a variety of fish species continue to be harvested by criminal syndicates at will, as well as by individuals and companies totally unconcerned about sustainable off-take levels.

Government has set a target to designate 20% of South Africa’s coastline as ‘no-take’ or Category 1 zones, the ultimate form of protection. Presently, less than 10% enjoys such protection. Why then would they want to reverse the status of the country’s oldest and most important MPA – and in the process open it up to potential destruction? Is this another case of political expediency at the cost of sound environmental judgement?

For further information and to voice your concern, go to the AfriOceans Conservation Alliance on www.aoca.org.za and the Orca Foundation, www.orcafoundation.com

Time and Tide
Ian Michler

Ian has spent the last 24 years working as a specialist guide, photo-journalist and consultant across Africa, including a stint of 13 years based in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. When not guiding, he writes predominately for Africa Geographic covering topics on conservation, wildlife management, ecotourism, and the environment, and has been writing his popular monthly column since 2001. Ian is also the author and photographer of seven natural history and travel books on Africa, and is a past winner of the bird category in the Agfa Wildlife photographic competition (1997). He has also worked as a researcher and field coordinator on various natural history television documentaries for international broadcasters and as a consultant on ecotourism to various private sector and government agencies. Prior to his life in the wilderness, he spent eight years practicing as a stockbroker in Cape Town and Johannesburg.