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iSimangaliso’s New Marine Protected Areas

iSimangaliso’s New Marine Protected Areas

Feb 2019

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which incorporates one of UNESCO’s 49 global marine World Heritage Sites, is expanding its Marine Protected Area (MPA) to become the biggest in the South African network. Already part of Africa’s longest transfrontier MPA together with Mozambique, the exciting news of this extension has been welcomed by iSimangaliso CEO Sibusiso Bukhosini, who recently returned from a workshop with global marine World Heritage Site managers held in Sudan.

On Thursday 25 October, the Department of Environmental Affairs announced that Cabinet had approved a network of 20 new MPAs that are representative of South Africa’s rich coastal and ocean biodiversity. This will increase protection of the ocean around South Africa from 0.4 to 5%. The new areas will advance ocean protection by approximately 50 000km2, an area two-and-a-half times the size of the Kruger National Park.

Mr Derek Hanekom, the Acting Minister of Environmental Affairs said “This network of 20 MPAs, approved by Cabinet on Wednesday, 24 October 2018, will considerably advance South Africa’s efforts to protect our ocean heritage for future generations. They will contribute to fisheries sustainability, advance marine ecotourism, and will help maintain resilience in ecosystems that are under stress from climate change”. 

According to Dr Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) – one of the lead drivers of this initiative – “This is vitally important for the protection of deep water ecosystems but also our critically endangered Leatherback turtles and coelacanths which need offshore protection to secure their habitat and foraging areas.”

The network is based on collaborative science with input from many institutions. Dr Sink led the five-year Offshore Marine Protected Area Project, which was a key input into this work. She led the Operation Phakisa Oceans Economy Marine Protected Area technical team, who used advanced planning and hundreds of map layers to align protection and ocean economy goals.

SANBI initiated work on expansion of MPAs in 2006 after the 2004 National Biodiversity Assessment showed that offshore ecosystems are the least protected ecosystem types across all realms in the country. SANBI also developed co-operative research projects with industry to increase our marine biodiversity knowledge base and established the Offshore Environment Forum in 2010 to facilitate information sharing with multiple sectors.

Dr Sink says, “It has been twelve years of hard work by a number of dedicated people to support MPA expansion. These include Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Marine GIS Analyst Tamsyn Livingstone, who has been deeply involved in the KZN marine conservation plan which also identified the expansion of iSimangaliso as a key area for marine protected area expansion. Tamsyn sits on the Phakisa Oceans Economy Technical Task Team and has assisted with stakeholder engagement and the GIS mapping related to the project, along with Joe Phadima, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Head: Conservation Services. We are proud to have supported a spatially efficient network of MPAs that align protection and ocean economy objectives. This is a unique approach and establishes South Africa as a leader in developing country strategies for sustainable oceans”. 

The new MPA network is the product of extensive consultation and negotiation with all stakeholders, which sought to ensure that the network is aligned with relevant policies and priorities for fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, as well as marine mining and oil exploration, while also protecting ecologically important areas. It will advance ecosystem protection for offshore ecosystems and provide the first protection to several threatened and fragile ecosystem types.

The network includes Childs Bank, a unique underwater feature with deep water corals on its sleep slopes, first protection of undersea mountains in the Indian and Atlantic, submarine canyons including South Africa’s Grand Canyon off Saldanha Bay, rare mud habitats and key areas for recovery of linefish. Support for the MPA components of the Namaqua and Addo Elephant National Parks are also welcomed with decades of work behind the establishment of these areas.

Explore the 20 new MPAs on the new website launched by SANBI in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Science and Technology and other partners.

For more information on MPAs, contact Dr Kerry Sink at [email protected] or the SANBI website. Follow SANBI on Twitter @SANBI_ZA with the hashtag #MzanSea. For more information on the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, visit  

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