The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) hosted a public participation meeting in Port Elizabeth on Thursday to discuss draft regulations around 22 proposed Marine Protected Area (MPAs) nationally, which form part of the Operation Phakisa initiative.
The aim of these proposed MPAs is to facilitate the protection of coastal and offshore ecosystems.
Dr Alan Boyd from the DEA said in a presentation that at present MPAs covered less than 0.5% of South Africa’s exclusive economic zone, in contrast to 8% of land area being protected.
“This is insufficient to maintain sustainable benefits from our marine ecosystems. Creation of viable networks of MPAs was identified to fast-track the development of South Africa’s ocean economy, the aim is to move it up to 5%,” he said.
Boyd said that four growth areas were selected for discussion in operation Phakisa labs, these relate to namely marine transport and manufacturing, offshore and gas exploration, aquaculture and marine protection services.
He then explained how these MPAs promoted development.
“They take account of future development plans such as new expanded ports and shipping routes. They are designed outside the main industrial development zones, so these zones can develop and expand. MPAs provide more certainty for planning the development of oil and gas and where it can take place, and they provide a sound basis for ocean governance and protection regarding Marine Spatial Planning,” said Boyd.
Some proposed MPA sites include Cape Canyon, Robben Island, Agulhas Mud, Agulhas Front, Amathole Offshore, Southwest Indian Seamounts, Port Elizabeth Corals and Addo Elephant National Park just to name a few.
For recreational fisherman, commercial fishing companies, environmental NGOs and land owners in the Eastern Cape who attended Thursday’s meeting, the Addo Elephant National Park proposed MPA was of particular concern.
Surrounding marine areas included the Sundays Estuary Mouth, Bird Island, Cannon Rocks and St Croix Isand (Algoa Bay).
The draft regulations indicated that these areas could be divided into “controlled” and “restricted” zones. A controlled zone means an area within an MPA where fishing or other activity may take place if authorised, while restricted zones refer to an area within an MPA where no fishing may take place.
A resident from Sunday’s River Valley, Ivan Thompson, was not in favour of the proposed MPAs at Sunday’s River and said the problem was with the commercial fisheries who were depleting fish stocks in the ocean.
“They want to penalise us, the recreational fisherman but there is hardly any fish there anyway, by closing these little areas it’s not going to help. If they want to they must rather close off the whole coastline for maybe three months in a year.”
Chris Jordaan who owns a commercial fishing company, said they wanted to introduce the fishing industry in the Colchester area but the proposed MPAs would cause difficulties.
“We want to change Colchester into a tourism destination, we want to turn Colchester into a gateway for Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. The MPA is going to effect us by giving us no access into the ocean. The MPA that SANparks is currently proposing, they are granting us a small portion to do our aquaculture project, the fishfarm. I’m not for the MPAs and I’m not against it, but please give us an area big enough,” said Jordaan.
Port Elizabeth shore angler, Mark Roberts, pleaded that they get proper access to the beaches.
“We get threatened and robbed because we don’t get proper access to the beaches, 80% of the beaches are closed down and some areas are just over populated. What are we doing about illegal fishing out at Marina Martinique? There are boats that are not South African boats, those guys leave with tons and tons of fish late at night,” said Roberts.
Director for Marine Protected Areas, Xola Mkefe, said that the department would record all questions submitted and formally respond to all concerns raised.
Stakeholders have until May 17 to submit comments.
The department is expected to hold several public meetings around the country and will submit the final draft regulations to the minister of Environmental Affairs, before the end of the year.