Features » First glimpses of deeper benthic habitats inform Phakisa Marine Protected Area Expansion Initiative

SAIAB’s RV uKwabelana Ocean Stewards Mesophotic (>30m) reef habitats off the east coast of South Africa

The Phakisa Ocean Economy proposed network of 21 new or expanded Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), designed to increase protection of South Africa’s marine environment to at least 5% (from the existing ca. 0.4%), was published for comment in 2016 by the national Minister of Environmental Affairs. With a full public consultation completed, the declaration of final versions of these MPAs is pending.

So why are MPAs important?

Applied alone, approaches to managing single-species, such as setting bag-limits and closed seasons for fishing, have often been unsuccessful at ensuring sustainability of fisheries, particularly mixed species fisheries and those that target organisms which live on or near the ocean floor and long-lived resident fish species. Many resource species that have shown significant declines in biomass and abundance over the past few decades need spatial management solutions that protect their habitats, particularly their nursery or spawning areas.    

Spatial solutions, such as marine protected areas (MPAs), provide important mechanisms to ensure sustainability of fisheries and to buffer global impacts. MPAs offer a cost-effective tool for mitigating risk from industrial practices such as oil and gas exploration and extraction, and preventing habitat loss from seabed mining and bottom-trawling. Over the last four years offshore research cruises of RV Angra Pequena and SAIAB’s RV uKwabelana on the east coast of South Africa have provided the first visual surveys of mesophotic habitats in the Natal Bioregion and at the same time produced a cohort of young, enthusiastic marine biologists eager to continue this pioneering work.

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