Robben Island MPA (managed by Table Mountain National Park). File photo: Peter Chadwick

Pretoria - As South Africa’s oceans economy intensifies, there is increasing urgency to provide the necessary protection to a representative sample of marine ecosystems, Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy said on Saturday.

As South Africa joined the global community in celebrating the annual World Oceans Day, it also celebrated the declaration of a network of 20 new representative Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - an important step in the protection of the oceans environment, she said in a statement.

The recently declared network of 20 new MPAs increased the spatial protection of South Africa’s oceans environment from the current 0.4 percent to 5.4 percent. The network of 20 MPAs would also provide a measure of protection to 90 percent of marine habitat types within the South African Exclusive Economic Zone.

“The new network strives to support multiple objectives for biodiversity in alignment with oceans economy goals. This new network of 20 MPAs will, among other things, contribute to fisheries sustainability, advance marine ecotourism, and will help maintain resilience in ecosystems that are under stress from climate change,” Creecy said.

T he Addo Elephant National Park MPA. File photo: Ané Oosthuizen

The new MPAs included seamounts, submarine canyons, volcanic pinnacles, and a variety of ecosystem types on the shelf, continental margin, and abyss in both the Indian and Atlantic oceans.

South Africa as a maritime nation with a coastline of about 2798km, had begun to appreciate that the oceans surrounding it could contribute significantly to its economy. South Africa’s rich and productive marine environment provided a multitude of benefits for the nation. In financial terms, the total oceans sector was estimated to contribute about 4.4 percent to South Africa’s GDP, supporting a great number of jobs and livelihoods. Coastal goods and services were estimated to contribute 35 percent to GDP.

“Yet, many of the incremental values of the ocean cannot be valued in financial terms: For example, the country’s relatively pristine environment is the foundation for a growing tourism industry. Healthy marine ecosystems provide the fishing industry and many small-scale and coastal fisheries communities with valuable living marine resources.

Namaqua National Park MPA. File photo: Peter Chadwick

“With intensification of South Africa’s ocean economy, there is increasing urgency to provide the necessary protection to a representative sample of marine ecosystems, thereby ensuring their resilience to human use and impact, and to impacts associated with climate change,” Creecy said.

She also planned to look into the problem of plastic pollution which had detrimental effects on the environment and oceans, and endangered marine life and fragile marine ecosystems.

World Oceans Day has a history spanning over two decades and was originally proposed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

African News Agency (ANA)