A message from Two Oceans Aquarium CEO Michael Farquhar

As some of you are no doubt aware, the South African government is proposing to open up sections the oldest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in South Africa, the Tsitsikamma MPA (proclaimed in 1964), to a small group of local recreational anglers (approximately 380). 

On 9 January 2016, the Friends of the Tsitsikamma Association successfully managed to halt the pilot project that allowed fishing in the MPA from 15 December 2015. However, this is only a temporary measure as draft regulations for Gazette number 39424 which proposes the re-zonation of the Tsitsikamma MPA are still on the table. 

The Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area was proclaimed in 1964 and is the oldest MPA in Africa. Photo courtesy Dave Lonsdale/Flickr under licence CC BY 2.0

“A total of 202 species of fish, sharks and rays from 84 families have been recorded in the Tsitsikamma MPA alone. Fifteen of these species can be found on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red data list as either vulnerable or near threatened whilst many other fish species protected by the MPA are classified as over-exploited or collapsed in South Africa.” – South African National Parks official website

The Two Oceans Aquarium’s vision is abundant and healthy oceans for life and our mission is to inspire action for their wellbeing. This is why it is important that we, as an organisation, stand up and express our deep concerns regarding the government’s proposal and we call on all citizens who share these concerns to submit their comments on this proposed re-zonation by Monday 1 February. 

In my opinion, and that of many marine scientists, this move will have a devastating effect on the local fish stocks, will counteract all the work which marine scientists have done over the years towards protecting endangered fish species, and will set a very worrying precedent which may impact other, if not all, MPAs in South Africa. 

This also comes at a time when there is a plan in South Africa, and a move around the world, to increase the number of MPAs so that fish species can be protected. 

Below you can download the letter that I have submitted on behalf of the Two Oceans Aquarium, and some facts about the Tsitsikamma MPA from Friends of Tsitsikamma, which will assist you if you choose to write a response. 

The black musselcracker Cymatoceps nasutus is one of several endemic species that lives in the MPA. It reaches sexual maturity after approximately 18 years, and has a potential life span of 45 years. It is listed as red (no sale) by the WWF South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI)

Some of the points in my letter include:

  • The Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (TMPA is the oldest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Africa and when it was proclaimed in 1964 it resulted in the protection of a unique and diverse section of coast for the benefit of all South Africans. The national interest far outweighed the recreational fishing interests of a few hundred fishermen, whether local or national, who had enjoyed catching and removing fishes from this area for decades. What has changed in the last 50 years that the interests of a few hundred now outweigh national interests?
  • The benefits of our MPAs to all South Africans are well documented, especially where resident fishes are involved. Over 50% of the commonly caught species in the TMPA are resident and have therefore benefited extremely well from the protection the MPA has offered them. Many of these same species are also long-lived and have complicated life histories making them particularly unsuitable for exploitation (hence the state of our national line fishery). To risk the national value of the unexploited (near-pristine) fish stocks of the TMPA for the enjoyment of an exclusive group of recreational fishermen is bordering on criminal and a chance we, as South Africans, should not take. How does the science of MPAs support this proposal?
  • South Africa has a target of 15% protection of our coastline by 2028. We are currently at 9%, well off the mark. A proposal to reduce the area under protection, before we have even reached the target, is counter-productive and the opposite action expected of the Department of Environmental Affairs. How are we going to reach this target? Would it not be better for all South Africans, especially in terms of food security, for the DEA to spend time and resources attempting to proclaim new MPAs rather than attempting to reduce the effectiveness of existing ones for the recreational use of a few?
  • Given the predominance of resident species in the TMPA, the exploitation levels proposed will result in a very short-term (months) benefit to the “local” recreational fishermen. Once fish stocks are depleted in the newly opened areas, the fishermen will be tempted to spread ever wider to locate unexploited areas. What additional resources are being allocated to the TMPA to ensure that the open zones are strictly controlled and that the permit conditions are adhered to correctly?
  • What part of our constitution allows for the exclusivity being proposed in these regulations? We are of the opinion that our constitution ensures entirely the opposite: that a select few may not benefit at the expense of all South Africans.


How to add your voice

If you would like to support the campaign to keep the Tsitsikamma MPA closed you can do the following: 

  1. Sign the petition on the Orca Foundation website: http://orcafoundation.com/tsitsikamma-marine-protected-area-petition/

    Or, more effectively: 

  2. Write directly to the Department of Environmental Affairs expressing your opinion on the proposal before Monday 1 February. Email your comments to Xola Mkefe: MPARegs@environment.gov.za, 021 819 2466

Please also send a copy of your letter to the Friends of Tsitsikamma on email eduoceans@gmail.com so that they know what has been submitted.

South Africa has a target of 15% protection of our coastline by 2028. We are currently at 9%, well off the mark. A proposal to reduce the area under protection, before we have even reached the target, is counter-productive and the opposite action expected of the Department of Environmental Affairs. Photo courtesy Henri Bergius/Flickr under licence CC BY 2.0

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