20 April, 2018 20 April, 2018

Plans to Expand Protected Areas Stalled

Progress made towards enlarging South Africa’s protected ocean reserve network have suddenly come to a standstill. The reason being alleged pressure from oil, gas and extractive mining sector according to Karen Sack from Ocean Unite (former University of Cape Town international environmental law graduate)

In 2013, Sack was a coauthor on a scientific report pleading to the United Nations to establish a new Department for Oceans as well as an Interpol-style navy that could attempt to police the world’s oceans. Sack fears that efforts to fast-track the expansion plans geared toward Marine Protected Areas (MPA) off our coast have come to a halt. As it stands a measly 0.4% of SA’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are legally protected. Four years ago our government announced plans to grow our network of MPA’s to 5% by 2016 and then further increasing it to a total of 10% by 2020. 

“Unfortunately, this process has stalled with stakeholders raising concerns that this hiatus is owing to undue influence from the extractive mining sector which is seen as one of the main drivers for unlocking South Africa’s Ocean Economy,” said Sack.

Alright so here’s the kicker, the Department of Energy has placed 98% of South Africa’s EEZ  open for oil and gas exploration as well as production rights. Remember the phosphate extraction seabed minerals article? Yeah, this relates to that.

“Encouragingly, the drive to achieve a 10% (and more) MPA target appears well supported at the most senior levels in Department of Environmental Affairs and aligns with South Africa’s National Development Plan outcomes and international commitments at the United Nations. South Africa has recently assumed the role of Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and there is a timely opportunity for South Africa to lead the way to establish MPA expansion as a key blue economy ocean governance goal within the African region. Marine parks are about more than just a haven for the species that live in them. These national parks at sea are critical climate change fighting tools and help support food security. The ocean is a massive carbon sink and science is now demonstrating that marine reserves slow the effects of climate change, rebuild biodiversity, and help build resilience. Governments can affirm their international commitments to combating climate change, securing jobs and food through the creation of marine reserves,” Sack said in a statement.

Photographer: Lucia Pinto Source: Shot Bru

The Department of Energy has not responded to requests for comment on Sack’s claims about “undue influence” from mining interests. In the grand scheme of things South African marine protection strategies currently rank poorly compared to other nations.

“When South Africa’s current Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were surveyed alongside 39 developed countries they ranked 34th out of 40, with 0.4% current marine protection, compared to an average of 11.2% for the other countries. When South Africa was surveyed together with 129 developing countries it ranked 90th out of 130 – an average of 5.8% compared to South Africa’s measly 0.4%,” said Dr Harris, who now heads the WildOceans programme of the Wildlands Conservation Trust.

0.4%, I’m sure we can all agree, is hopelessly inadequate to foster sustainable solutions and benefits to the countries growing ocean economy. This being said South Africa has committed to meet the global standard of 10% marine protection in the next 2 years. Protecting a mere 5%  would create benefits to fisheries, including protection of nursery and spawning areas, resource recovery and the management of essential habitat. 

If we compare our efforts with that of other developing nations SA gets put to shame in light of their much more ambitious MPA targets over the past year. For example, Brazil aims to create four new MPAs covering an area larger than 900,000 km2 – that equates to a surface area larger than France, England, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland combined.

Last year Mexico announced it would protect nearly 92,000 km2 of their EEZ against resource extraction and fishing, Chile climbing onboard this environmental train announced plans to safeguard over 1 million km2– that’s about 40% of its waters. These efforts to protect certain areas aims to build resilience as well as revitalise the abundance and diversity of marine fish stocks.

South Africa currently has a network of 24 coastal MPAs, covering only 0.4% of the continental EEZ, and one sub-Antarctic MPA (Marion/Prince Edward Islands).

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