New report highlights areas of concern in protecting our ocean inhabitants – and the need for MPA Day

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South Africa can lay claim to an incredible 41 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), valuable ocean spaces that – much like game reserves – protect the region’s biodiversity and support surrounding communities with improved environmental health and livelihoods.

 

However, without the proper public awareness, care and management of MPAs, the goal of protecting the vulnerable species, habitats and ecosystems, and benefiting communities simply cannot be achieved. That’s why addressing the challenges outlined in the recent Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) report, produced by WWF South Africa, is critical to the oceans’ health.

According to the METT report, South Africa is recognised globally as a marine biodiversity hotspot, with close to 13 000 marine species. Moreover, almost a third of all these species recorded are endemic to South Africa, ranking it the third highest in terms of marine species endemism in the world. Considering the wealth of ocean life found in these waters, effective management and protection of the MPAs is critical.

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The 6 areas of management effectiveness

Entitled ‘The SA MPA METT 3 report: State of marine protected area management effectiveness in South Africa’, the report tracks six key areas:

Context. Where are we now? Planning. Where do we want to be? Inputs. What do we need? Processes. How do we go about it? Outputs. What were the results? Outcomes. What did we achieve?

For the first time this year, the METT report has adopted a ‘traffic light’ system for MPA managers to evaluate governance through a standardised questionnaire. The various focus areas are allocated a colour-coded score, green for those that are well-managed, orange for those that need some attention; and red for those of grave concern.

 

Biggest challenges to MPAs

According to the latest report, South Africa’s 27 coastal and island MPAs are facing five major challenges that managers are seeking to address. These include:

1. Insufficient funding, staffing and resources: The report indicated that over half of South African MPAs have inadequate capital budgets, 64% have insufficient human resources, and 45% have inadequate operational budgets.

2. A great need for the implementation or improvement of monitoring to track MPA management.

3. Insufficient effective law enforcement at MPAs.

4. A need to improve the management of cultural heritage at MPAs such as identifying spiritual sites and other cultural aspects that would provide value to communities and tourists.

5. Finally, there is simply not enough public awareness of MPAs, their role in the environment and value to local communities.

 

Creating public awareness about MPAs

The METT report states:

“According to the results, 56% of South Africa’s MPAs do not have an education, awareness and interpretation programme that is fully integrated into the MPA management plan. A partnership between government and NPOs is required to shift public perception regarding the value of MPAs, to promote them as the foundation for the long-term health of our marine ecosystems and the ecosystem services providing socio-economic benefits that many communities rely on.”

 

André Riley, Acting Regional General Manager: Frontier & Head: Planning & Environmental Coordination Parks Division for South African National Parks (SANParks), agreed that one of the most pressing issues facing MPAs is a lack of public awareness:

“Because people can’t see it, they can’t always relate to it which is why more attention needs to be brought to MPAs.”

 

SANParks, which oversees six MPAs in the country – three of which were declared in the past two years – also faces challenges in terms of poaching and overfishing in regions adjacent to the MPAs. Abalone, a mollusc found in the Western Cape, is facing extinction because of syndicated poaching. Likewise, the African penguin, which competes for food sources with commercial fishing activities, has seen a dramatic population decline the past few years.

“The METT report provides a useful external overview of management effectiveness, which we use to implement corrective actions for continuous improvement,”

continued Riley.

“It’s important that these reports serve a purpose.”

 

This is the aim of WWF’s Robin Adams, Manager for the South African Marine Protected Areas Network (SAMPAN), who said the METT report can be used as a tool to identify and prioritise actions in a phased approach. Commenting on the plans going forward, he explained that government has introduced an internal METT system that allows protected areas to input their own data on an internal database managed by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

“The METT data is now centralised and can be accessed by approved users to monitor trends over time,”

explained Adams.

“I feel this system supports protected areas. Our MPA management agencies need to share experiences and collaborate to improve MPA management effectiveness in South Africa.”

 

He mentioned one of the unanticipated challenges for MPAs was a lack of uniform boundary markers:

“These boundary markers should be visible from land and sea. It would be a great project to highlight MPAs to design and install these land-based MPA boundary markers. Most of our MPAs also face the challenge of identifying cultural heritage sites and managing them.”

 

Introducing of MPA Day

To highlight the challenges facing MPAs, as identified in the report, Dr Judy Mann, Conservation Strategist at SAAMBR (South African Association for Marine Biological Research) explained that MPA Day – an annual celebration of these important areas of biodiversity - would be celebrated for the first time on Sunday, 1 August 2021.

“This is one way to address the challenges outlined in the METT report, by creating greater public awareness of the role on MPAs in protecting valuable marine resources, and safeguarding the economic, cultural, educational and spiritual benefits of the ocean.”

 

She said, in addition to this, MPA Day will also shine a spotlight on the tireless efforts of those entrusted with MPA protection:

“We will use this opportunity to celebrate the amazing work done by our marine rangers, individuals who play a vital role in the management of MPAs. It is absolutely critical that they are supported and provided with the necessary resources to enable them to do their work properly.”

 

Dr Bruce Mann, a Senior Scientist at SAAMBR said the METT report, which evaluates the MPA management effectiveness is crucial:

“Without such analysis, these important areas stand the risk of simply becoming ‘paper parks’ – simply a map on paper but with no real conservation value. Although there will always be certain biases and weaknesses associated with using this evaluation tool, it does serve to highlight the main challenges that MPA managers are facing.”

 

He said that overcoming these challenges will greatly improve the current management of South Africa’s MPA network:

“The idea to hold the first MPA Day in South Africa will contribute greatly to improving public awareness about the value of our MPAs and hopefully engender greater support for their existence and management.”

 

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Celebrate MPA Day on the 1 August 2021

MPA Day aims to educate and inspire people about these protected spaces and draw attention to the benefits they provide. Here’s how to get involved and celebrate MPA Day:

• Start a conversation about MPAs using the hashtags #MPADay #LetsTalkMPAs  #MPA #MarineProtectedArea and share what you know with others.

•    Learn as much as you can and discover the wealth of diverse and beautiful ocean creatures, plants and habitats within our MPAs and how protecting these ecosystems can help people.

•   Celebrate MPA Day on the 1 August – join our webinar or Twitter Chat, do a beach or river clean up, or simply go for a walk on the beach.

•    Visit one of the country’s incredible MPA areas and discover the wonders for yourself.

•   If you are a fisherman, respect the boundaries of MPAs and teach fellow anglers about the importance of MPAs. Anglers can get more information here - For Anglers | SAAMBR

•   Visit MPA Day — Marine Protected Areas South Africa for more information about our MPAs and MPA Day 

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