09 April 2013

Prince Edward Islands declared a Marine Protected Area

The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, has declared the Prince Edward Islands a Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The new Prince Edward Islands MPA, the first South African offshore MPA, will serve to significantly contribute to global initiatives towards protection of offshore and deep ocean areas.

The declaration is in line with South Africa’s new National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy, which seeks to structure the way in which protected areas are declared in order to maximise conservation benefits. This strategy drew attention to South Africa’s lack of offshore protected areas, and put forward the Prince Edward Islands.

“The Prince Edward Islands MPA is a significant contribution to the conservation of global biodiversity. The new MPA will also contribute significantly towards South Africa’s national and international commitments to biodiversity protection,” said Minister Molewa.

She added that “the new MPA is intended, among other things, to contribute to the protection of unique species, habitats and ecosystem processes. It will also provide scientific reference points that can inform the future management of the area and to be able to understand better the impacts of climate change on the whole Southern Ocean. It will also contribute to integrated and ecologically sustainable management of marine resources of the area”.

The new MPA will comprise of 3 types of zones:

  • A 12 nautical mile sanctuary (no take) zone
  • Four restricted zones, in which fishing effort is limited
  • A controlled zone, linking the four restricted areas. This zone is to be managed as a low-impact zone that links the four zones spatially

The rationale for the zonation is that the MPA will have a 12nm sanctuary zone for the preservation of the unique island ecosystem, and to contribute towards the recovery of the toothfish populations. The MPA will still allow limited utilisation of Patagonian toothfish resources by South African vessels outside the sanctuary area.

A gentoo penguin and chick. Photo courtesy Liam Quinn

The marine biodiversity of the Prince Edward Islands is of global importance. Given the scarcity of land masses in the Southern Ocean, sub-Antarctic islands contain vast populations of seals and seabirds, which use these islands to breed and moult. This means that these islands are critical to the conservation of such species as they are forced to aggregate in high densities, where they are vulnerable to disturbance and the threat of introduced predators or pathogens.


  • Three species of seals breed at the Prince Edward Islands, namely the southern elephant seal, the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic fur seal. The islands support one-third (16 000 animals) of the world population of sub-Antarctic fur seals alone!
  • Four species of penguin breed on the Prince Edward Islands: the King, Gentoo, Macaroni and Southern Rockhopper. The islands support some 13% (450 000 birds) of King Penguins worldwide, 4% (750 000 birds) of Macaroni Penguins and 0,5% (3 000 birds) of Gentoo Penguins. The population of Southern Rockhopper Penguins is about 5% of the world population. Penguins dominate the avian biomass on the islands
  • Five species of albatross breed on the Prince Edward Islands, together with 14 species of petrel and five other species. The islands support 44% (7 300 birds) of all Wandering Albatrosses, 10% (21 800 birds) of Grey-headed Albatross, 21% (15 000 birds) of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and approximately 10% (4 400 birds) of Dark-mantled and 2% (700 birds) of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

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