South Africa has a network of 21 marine protected areas (MPAs) around our coastline. Collectively they protect a wide range of marine habitat types and biodiversity.
Despite this network of MPAs, much work is still needed to ensure that a full representation of coastal habitats and biodiversity is protected. Sadly, MPAs do not have the same public understanding and support as our terrestrial protected areas.
The most recent MPA to be proclaimed by the Department of Environmental Affairs is the Prince Edward Islands MPA that lies deep in the Southern Ocean and is one of the worlds top ten largest MPAs. The Department have furthermore committed to expanding the coastal MPA footprint with high priorities being the Namaqua and Addo MPAs and in ensuring that a network of offshore MPAs within the South African EEZ are proclaimed.
This photographic project has been ongoing since late 2010 and is a partner project with the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. It entails visiting each of South Africa’s 21 MPAs and photographically recording their diversity from a biodiversity and human perspective. Close co-operation and consultation is achieved with all the relevant conservation agencies managing each MPA. To date, images obtained through this project have been used in a number of key national presentations that promotes South African MPAs and includes the keynote address at the 2012 Marine Week celebration led by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Birdlife South Africa. Images have also been used in numerous publications and presentations. This project is on going.
1 of 24. With a coastline of 3500kms, South Africa lies between the warm Agulhas Current on the east coast and the cold Benguela Current on the west coast, with additional influences being pushed northwards onto our shores by the currents from deep in the Southern Oceans.
2 of 24. Man has a rich history with the oceans and it is believed that the development of the human brain that allowed language to develop is as a result of the rich omega oils and proteins found within seafood. Here, Khoi-San fish traps line the coastline of De Hoop Marine Protected Area.
3 of 24. Over the centuries, the exploration of the oceans has claimed its toll against seafarers. The rugged coastline off the southern tip of Africa is particularly fearsome with its winter storms and many a shipwreck lies within its waters.
4 of 24. Fisheries form a vital part of the South African economy with many coastal communities being dependent on it for their livelihoods. Recent declines of fisheries as a result of overfishing is placing these communities at extreme risk.
5 of 24. Recreational fishing is extremely popular in South Africa and sadly within this sector there is a large component that does not comply with regulations and who remove undersize catches and exceed bag limits that then push many line-fish species towards extinction.
6 of 24. The commercial fisheries of South Africa make up to 6% of the countries total GDP and employ many thousands of people. It is vital that we ensure sustainable fisheries practices to allow this industry to continue into the future.
7 of 24. Seafood is becoming increasingly popular given the purported and associated health benefits. As a result of this, the demand for seafood has increased radically, placing further pressures on an already over-stretched resource.
8 of 24. Coastal development is yet another risk facing our coastline and in-shore marine environment. With the risk of climate change and higher sea levels many coastal developments will face increasing risk from severe weather events.
9 of 24. As marine resources dwindle from over-exploitation, illegal harvesting through poaching is on the increase. This poaching is often linked to organised crime gangs and places a number of marine species to extreme risk of extinction.
10 of 24. Pollution from both land and sea is having a hugely negative impact on ocean functioning. Heavy metal runoff from industrial developments is accumulating in many fish species making them toxic for human consumption.
11 of 24. With the increasing demands for oil and gas, large sectors of the ocean are now being set aside for oil and gas exploration and other mining and this is risking the destruction of sensitive marine ecosystems upon which commercially important fish species are dependent.
12 of 24. The South African marine environment is one of the most diverse in the world with their being over 12500 recorded species and with a third of these being endemic.
13 of 24. Marine protected areas are an important tool in protecting marine habitats and biodiversity but it is important to ensure that a network of these areas cover as many habitat types and ecosystems as possible.
14 of 24. The South African coastline is very diverse and although South Africa's marine protected areas are well represented along the east coast, there is little available protection on the West Coast, making this a priority area for further proclamation of MPAs
15 of 24. The proposed location for a marine protected area along the west coast will lie adjacent to the current Namaqua National Park that is managed by the South African National Parks and which is well renowned for its floral diversity and splendor.
16 of 24. The inter-tidal zone along the west coast of South Africa has some of the highest densities of grazing animals found anywhere in world. This abundance is largely as a result of the nutrient-rich upwelling of the Benguela Current.
17 of 24. As a result of over-exploitation, the populations of many line-fish, such as this White Steenbras, have been pushed to the brink of extinction and now require concerted conservation efforts to allow recovery. Marine protected areas allow refuge areas for these species to grow and breed in safety.
18 of 24. Well managed marine protected areas allow for healthy marine ecosystems that enable all trophic levels to recover and flourish and thereby re-stock other over-exploited areas. Apex predators, such as this Great White Shark, need large marine protected areas as well as having species-specific regulations to protect them and thereby enable healthy populations
19 of 24. The De Hoop Marine Protected Area in South Africa is a globally important breeding area for Southern Right Whales with as much as 40% of the global population coming to calve and mate within its waters.
20 of 24., Marine protected areas are also important areas for many endangered coastal seabird species. These MPAs together with coastal islands that are found along the west and southern coast of South Africa, are in many cases the last breeding bastions for a number of threatened seabirds.
21 of 24. Marine protected areas are important areas for research and monitoring and findings from these areas help decision makers in determining fisheries regulations.
22 of 24. Marine protected areas are important for education and awareness and it is vital that public support is garnered to ensure the long-term protection of these areas.
23 of 24. With healthy populations of marine biodiversity, marine protected areas can play an important role in allowing a variety of non-consumptive tourism and recreational activities such as scuba-diving and marine-mammal and apex predator viewing. These sustainable tourism activites bring greater economic benefits than the once-off removal of a species through activities such as fishing.
24 of 24., The marine environment is critical to our well-being and long term survival and greater effort is needed to ensure its long-term sustainability. This can only be achieved through garnering support and raising awareness to its fragility.