A snail moves through Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Picture: Mariano Rodriguez/Beagle Secretos del Mar via AP

Pretoria - The environmental affairs department (DEA) has partnered with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to celebrate World Wildlife Day on Sunday under the theme “Life Below Water: For People for Planet”, the department said.

"This is the first World Wildlife Day to focus on life below water. It is a great opportunity to raise awareness about the breathtaking diversity of marine life, the crucial importance of marine species to human development, and how we can make sure it will continue to provide these services for future generations," the department said in a statement on Sunday.

The ocean contained nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may be in the millions. According to the UN, the global market value of marine and coastal resources and industries was estimated at US3 trillion per year, about five percent of global GDP.

As part of South Africa’s efforts to protect the ocean space and the marine life in it, the department was in the process of gazetting a network of 20 new marine protected areas (MPAs) representative of South Africa’s rich coastal and ocean biodiversity.

Cabinet approved the network of 20 new MPAs in October 2018 and this would considerably advance South Africa’s efforts to protect its ocean heritage for future generations. They would contribute to fisheries sustainability, advance marine ecotourism, and would help maintain resilience in ecosystems under stress from climate change, the department said. 

This would increase ocean protection within the South African exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to five percent. MPAs provided some protection and stability to important habitats and provided a range of advantages for different economic sectors. MPAs also contributed to growing South Africa’s marine eco-tourism sector by providing well-managed natural habitats for marine wildlife, such as whales, sharks, seals, dolphins, turtles, and seabirds for international and South Africans alike to experience.

"South Africa is also mindful of its longer-term commitments to the protection of marine biodiversity, including meeting the 2020 global target in the decadal plan of the UN Convention of Biodiversity (CBD), which stood at 10 percent.

"The United Nations World Wildlife Day is the global celebration of the many beautiful and varied forms of wild animals and plants on our planet, as well as an occasion to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits they provide to people and the urgent need to reduce the threats facing them," the department said. 

Another effort the DEA was making to protect marine wildlife was by combatting marine litter which was one of the biggest threats to the livelihood of marine wildlife. Marine litter, including plastic litter, had become a matter of increasing global and national concern as a source of marine pollution.

South Africa had shown commitment to addressing the marine litter and micro-plastics problem through several forums. In July 2017, the G20 group of countries, of which South Africa was a member, adopted an action plan on marine litter.

In December 2017, at the margins of the 3rd United Nations Environment Assembly, South Africa endorsed the UN’s clean seas campaign, which exists as a platform for governments to engage the general public, civil society and the private sector to find solutions to the plastic litter problem.

"World Wildlife Day celebrations take place as South Africa prepares to launch the presidential initiative 'Good Green Deeds campaign', which seeks to prioritise 'litter free and no dumping behaviour'. This will help ensure better environmental quality for all our environment and not only protected areas," the department said.

African News Agency (ANA)