It is possible for governments to make bold moves to protect nature. In 2012 Australia announced a comprehensive network of marine protected areas that covers 40 per cent of their oceans.
Only 0.4% of South Africa’s mainland marine territory is protected within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and most offshore habitat types are unprotected.
South Africa is taking a small step in the right direction. The offshore expansion of South Africa’s MPA network is regarded as a national priority. A collaborative five-year Offshore Marine Protected Area Project is being undertaken to identify potential measures to manage our marine environment. These measures include the establishment of MPAs, protecting offshore biodiversity and vulnerable marine ecosystems, contributing to fisheries sustainability and better monitoring of by-catch. The aim is that 20% of our coastline will be protected in 20 years’ time.
But is that soon enough? With our poor record of meeting targets there is a danger that it could be too little too late.
Australia is similar to South Africa in that it is a democratic country with large ocean areas and ocean economies that depend on healthy productive oceans to support recreation, tourism and seafood industries.
So what can we learn from Australia’s move to protect 40 per cent of their ocean area?
Instead of working to establish one marine protected area at a time, they are establishing a comprehensive network all at once. This is more effective and efficient, allowing them to meet their goal in one coordinated, comprehensive program.
Australia has shown us that progress doesn’t have to be slow and incremental.
With looming environmental threats and global economic uncertainty, securing the health of our oceans is paramount. Let us keep motivating and pressurising the authorities to keep to the targets for MPAs.
In the Overstrand there is one small MPA at Betty’s Bay and one along the coast of the Walker Bay Nature Reserve. At present there are no plans for any new MPAs in this area. Yet we have many traditional small-scale fishers who are no longer able to make a living from the sea.
To declare Walker Bay as an MPA may not be the only solution – many factors, especially over-fishing, are responsible for the decline in fish stocks in this traditional fishing mecca. But WCC plans to engage with the experts to explore whether there is a possibility of restoring our fish stocks and how to do it.