Only 0.5% of SA’s marine territory under protection

15 October 2017 - 15:44
By Claire Keeton
Marine life. File photo
Image: PETER VERHOOG Marine life. File photo

South Africa marine research cruises have identified unique ecosystems in the ocean and these discoveries have informed its proposal for 22 Marine Protected Areas‚ scientist Sizo Sizakele Sibanda said on Sunday aboard the SA Agulhas II.

The state-of-the-art research ship is currently sailing from Cape Town to Durban in rolling seas. On Wednesday it will depart from Durban as part of the International Indian Oceans Expedition II‚ with a team of African scientists doing research during the voyage up the east coast of Africa to Tanzania.

Sibanda‚ from the SA National Biodiversity Institute‚ said the important ecosystems found by scientists on prior cruises had included seamounts‚ cold water corals‚ fossilised corals and reef-building corals.

She said: “We are familiar with corals in tropical areas. The coldwater corals we have found are the equivalent of ocean fynbos and they are very diverse.”

The teams of scientists have found corals which acted as a nursery environment for fish‚ fossils which shed light on climate change and seamounts with special features or biodiversity.

Senior scientist Gcobani Popose said that 10 out of 13 habitat types found offshore were critically endangered.

At present 46 out of 54 marine habitat types had no protection he said.

The proposed marine protected areas would range in size from 200 square km to 15‚000 square km‚ amounting to a proposed new protected area of 70‚000 square km.

Popose said South Africa needed more than 0.5 % of its marine territory under protection.

SA land habitats have much greater protection than those offshore‚ with 7.8% of the land falling under protection compared to only 0.5% of ocean at present.

Popose said protecting marine areas was complex and the South African Department of Environmental Affairs was working in collaboration with other departments‚ agencies and conservation bodies to work out an enforcement plan.

“Our marine spatial planning is an ongoing process‚” he said‚ “not just for today’s livelihood but for that of future generations.”