Cape Town - In the run-up to the first Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Day this year, various environmental and conservation groups stressed the importance of MPAs in protecting ocean biodiversity to support surrounding communities through job creation, supply of sustainable food sources and improve environmental health.
To raise awareness of marine-protected areas and their associated benefits, MPA Day will be celebrated on August 1 by the Two Oceans Aquarium, South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), Dyer Island Conservation Trust, WildOceans, Flow Communications and Olivia Jones Communications.
Dyer Island Conservation Trust spokesperson Brenda Walters said the goal of MPA Day was to generate support and awareness of South Africa’s MPAs and ultimately strengthen protection of the current MPA network.
Walters said MPAs ensured biodiversity, supported adjacent fisheries, ensured healthy marine animals, protected cultural heritage, promoted tourism, provided resilience to climate change and increased job opportunities.
“They protect critical nursery habitats for marine creatures and provide a space for resident fish species to increase in number and size, securing a vital food source for humans and in an increasingly industrialised ocean, they help maintain food and job security provided by the fisheries sector,” said Walters.
Two Oceans Aquarium communications and media executive Renée Leeuwner said the legal and physical protection of these areas were a major challenge, especially in finding the right balance between traditional usage of the areas and the protection of the fauna and flora within the areas that required buy-in and co-operation from communities in the areas.
SAAMBR conservation strategist Dr Judy Mann said: “MPAs are valuable safe havens that support, not only the marine plants and animals, but also the human population. SA’s older MPAs have been shown to benefit local communities in the tourism economy with employment opportunities, improved fishing and a healthier marine biodiversity.”
“Our ocean is currently facing a human-made crisis with pollution, climate change, overfishing and over exploitation of marine resources. By protecting the ocean and maintaining a healthy marine environment, we are essentially ensuring our survival on this planet as we are deeply dependent on the ocean for our future,” said Leeuwner.