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?