South Africa set for big strides towards 10% marine protected areas

There was much celebration in 2019 when the South African Marine Protected Area (MPA) network expanded to 41 MPAs encompassing 5.4% of its mainland waters, and the hope is that our country will celebrate again soon with a shift of our MPA footprint to 10%. A key step in this conservation planning process is the production of the Critical Biodiversity Areas (CBA) Map, not a small feat – which was released in April 2022 by the Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and Nelson Mandela University.

The CBA Map informs protection and management and pulls the marine biodiversity sector’s strategy (and South Africa’s Ocean) into one place in a visual way. The primary purpose of this process is to ensure that marine life and ecological infrastructure are protected, as well as to make sure that the oceans economy (all the activities that take place in our ocean – fishing, oil and gas prospecting, transport, tourism) is implemented in a sustainable manner.

The creation of this map is a very collaborative and data-hungry process, produced by including datasets in a computer model with data submissions from all sectors around South Africa including government, NGOs, and private enterprises with 976 biodiversity features and design elements included.

The map highlights ecosystem types; important areas and distributions of species such as turtles, seabirds, whales, seals, sharks, and rays; unique or special habitats or features; ecological processes; ecological infrastructure, and existing priority areas for protection. Design elements include edge matching and aligning priority areas both locally and internationally, culturally important areas, ecological condition, and climate change adaptation.

In addition, the dataset includes cost layers, which are areas to be avoided to reduce conflict (around 19 different sectors including fisheries, aquaculture, petroleum, mining, and transport) and considerations linked to the cumulative impact of past and current activities.

This means that the CBA Map is the most effective way to protect our biodiversity while reducing conflict with industry

said MPA Scientist at WILDTRUST, Kendyl Wright.

This version of the CBA Map has identified areas of important biodiversity and zones them to include Critical Biodiversity Areas “Natural (18%) and Restore (3.6%)” which must be either maintained or restored to a natural or near-natural state, and “Ecological Support Areas (6.6%)” which must be kept in a functional state. These areas together with the 5.4% MPAs identify 33.6% of our ocean space around South Africa as biodiversity prioritization areas and inform MPA expansion in the future. These areas are also assigned management recommendations which are outlined in the sea use guidelines.

Within our existing MPA network of 5.4%, South Africa’s coastal zone is well represented, with just under 37% of the coast falling within MPAs,” says Wright. “While there are still critical coastal areas, it is offshore regions that comprise those low hanging fruit in the potential ‘next 5% MPAs’ where the benefits to the people of South Africa significantly outweigh the immediate costs. These include key areas identified during the Phakisa and CBA Map process but left unprotected on the west coast such as an expanded area around the Orange Shelf MPA. It is certainly clear that the science and planning groundwork to achieve spatial protection targets has been done, and that we are ready to take the next step in our journey to achieve 10% protection of our mainland waters

South Africa finalised V1.2 of its CBA Map in April 2022, although this is an iterative process with updates likely as data improves. This indicates key areas that require protection, and the prediction is that much of this next 5% MPAs will be offshore where the value to the people of South Africa through carbon sequestration, food security, and oxygen provision far outweigh any negatives.

This means that South Africa is poised and ready to achieve 10% of our ocean in MPAs and this will go a long way to contributing our lion’s share towards the global 30×30 goal – currently being referred to as the 30% before 2030 goal at the United Nations Ocean Conference currently taking place in Portugal.

Earlier this year President Cyril Ramaphosa publicly announced South Africa’s support of the global 30×30 goal saying that South Africa supports and welcomes all targets in the Global Biodiversity Framework and recognizes the need for ambitious targets, including Target 3, which is commonly known as 30×30.

Over-fishing, damaging industrial activities, habitat destruction, resource extraction, climate change and pollution are not letting up and by not protecting our oceans’ ability to keep giving what we take, we risk a biodiversity crisis, and a subsequent ocean collapse and economic catastrophe,” commented Wright. “You can help by adding your name to this online appeal for increased

Protecting the ocean will not only benefit biodiversity but also the people of South Africa.