PROTECTING THE OCEAN MAKES BUSINESS SENSE
Thriving Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) provide food and economic security for local communities
In the lead-up to celebrating the first-ever MPA Day on Sunday (1 August 2021), it’s important to note that South Africa’s 41 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) support both ocean biodiversity and surrounding communities through job creation, the supply of sustainable food sources and improved environmental health.
“MPAs are valuable safe havens that support, not only the marine plants and animals, but also the human populations as well,” explained Dr Judy Mann, Conservation Strategist at SAAMBR (South African Association for Marine Biological Research). “Some of South Africa’s older MPAs have been shown to benefit local communities in terms of a tourism economy, employment, improved fishing and a much healthier marine biodiversity.”
One of the most significant roles of MPAs is the protection of spawning and nursery areas that allow for resource recovery to counteract rampant overfishing. They provide safe havens for the fish and other marine life to thrive and mature into adulthood. This provides bigger, more plentiful catches for anglers later on and, ultimately, ensures food and job security in the fishery sector.
This has been noted by Sinegugu Zukulu, an environmentalist and guide based near the Pondoland MPA. Committed to community development, he has been taking tourists on guided walks of the coastal area since 2010, educating both tourists and local communities on the area’s biodiversity and the importance of a healthy ecosystem.
He said that, although there were some challenges in establishing the MPA as people didn’t fully realise the long-term benefits, the effects are now being felt: “People have come to understand that the MPA is also for our benefit. The laws in place mean there are bigger fish when locals go fishing and species that were once thought extinct in the area are now readily available. People are finding bigger lobsters and other crustaceans which they can then sell or use to feed their own families.”
Through his community work, Zukulu liaises with the coastal residents and engages in farmers’ forums to promote eco-tourism in the area: “We all have a role to play and I act as a facilitator, helping understand the need for conservation and the protection of our natural resources, such as through the MPA. One of our biggest concerns right now is the impact of oil and gas exploration off the coast. This is an unsustainable undertaking that will impact the oceans, including our MPAs.”
South African author, Fikile Hlatshwayo, is a great advocate for the ocean and is currently working on her latest book which is focused on ocean pollution and tourism. Having grown up inland with little understanding of the ocean, she has since established a strong connection having explored iSimangaliso MPA in northern KZN.
“When I discovered how rich the ocean is and its incredible marine life, I knew that I had to write this book and use it to advocate for more MPAs,” explained Hlatshwayo. “Ocean tourism provides tremendous opportunities for economic growth and job creation. This is evident at iSimangaliso MPA which employs members from local communities throughout the park at all levels, such as monitors, rangers, land care workers, skippers, guides and hospitality staff.”
She said that community-owned businesses are also able to leverage opportunities in iSimangaliso, further igniting a cycle of job creation and economic growth: “All privately-owned lodges in iSimangaliso have local community-equity, a mandatory requirement set by iSimangaliso. The MPA also offers environmental programmes to educate and empower local communities with knowledge about the ocean and its marine life.”
Jeff Asherwood, a tour operator based at St Lucia Estuary near iSimangaliso MPA, said the devastating impact of Covid-19 has highlighted the need for thriving marine ecosystems.
“The MPAs increase fish stocks, which brings social and competitive anglers to the area, thereby creating jobs,” explained Asherwood. “The town of St Lucia survives on tourism, but with the international tourism trade disappearing, there have been significant job losses. Many have since turned to subsistence fishing to feed their families and, with a healthy marine system, this is a real possibility for locals.”
He encourages ongoing education of people about the existence and need for MPAs, as well as better policing and signage to promote lawful activities.