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May 08, 2009

SA to create large marine-protected area around Prince Edwards Islands

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Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk on Friday gazetted a proposal to create one of the world’s largest marine protected areas (MPAs) surrounding the Prince Edwards Island group, comprising Marion Island and the Prince Edwards Island in the Southern Indian Ocean.

This would also be South Africa’s first offshore MPA and followed a five-year process during which a scientific plan and draft management plan were developed, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (Deat) said in a statement.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Nature welcomed the announcement, noting that the island group formed an important global biodiversity hot spot, which was also home to several species of marine wildlife, including albatrosses, penguins and killer whales.

“This is a historic day in marine conservation in South Africa. All of South Africa's current MPAs are located very close inshore. The commitment of the first large offshore MPA moves South Africa into a new era of marine conservation,” WWF Sanlam Living Waters Partnership head Dr Deon Nel said in a statement published on the WWF’s website.

The creation of the MPA would aim to reduce the ecological impacts of fisheries, particularly on endangered sea birds, as well as to contribute to the ecologically sustainable management of marine resources.

Further, the establishment of the area would provide scientific reference points for research and was expected to contribute to a national and global system of protected areas, noted Deat.

All activities in a 22,2-km sanctuary area around the islands would be strictly controlled, while no fishing would be allowed.

There would also be four restricted areas, in three of which limited fishing would be allowed. This would include fishing for the purpose of scientifically monitoring the stocks of certain fish species.

Deat stated that it would, in future, review the levels of fishing in these areas.

The rest of the MPA would form controlled areas, where fishing would only be allowed with certain gear types, excluding, for example, bottom trawling, it added.

Meanwhile, Deat noted that it would have to rely on increased funding support from stakeholders and other countries, through international agreements, to ensure the funding of the MPA, as it did not want to divert funding away from protection and research in South Africa’s coastal waters.

It also believed that government funding for the management of the MPA would be constrained to current levels in terms of compliance and research.

Edited by: Mariaan Webb
Creamer Media Senior Researcher and Deputy Editor Online
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