African Journal of Marine Science

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International experience of marine protected areas and their relevance to South Africa

CG Attwood, JM Harris, AJ Williams


Marine protected areas (MPAs) have become necessary to counter modern threats to marine biodiversity and the sustainability of fisheries. Sensitive habitats, including coral reefs, estuaries and mangroves, have been
effectively protected in large MPAs, which control resource use. Protection from pollution and physical destruction by fishing gear are important functions of MPAs in tropical and temperate regions. MPAs have
been used to protect endangered species and to allow population recoveries. The advantages for fishery management include maintenance of spawner biomass, improvement of yield, simplified enforcement,
research opportunity, insurance against stock collapse and maintenance of intraspecific genetic diversity. MPAs can be small with narrow, focused objectives, or large with core areas, buffer zones and exploitable
areas to provide an integrated management approach. A variety of design considerations, based on ecological, fishery and socio-economic conditions, is presented. Optimal size and spacing have not been extensively
tested and only theoretical arguments guide the choice of how much to protect. The process of establishing an MPA can be initiated by local communities or by governmental authorities. The former has better public
support, whereas the latter promises a well planned system of MPAs. Community and industry involvement in the establishment process is essential for the effective functioning of MPAs. Successful MPAs are administered by national programmes and managed according to management plans. Monitoring, communication and enforcement are integral components of MPA management. South Africa is party to a number of international conventions which promote the designation of MPAs. Better protection of the physical marine environment, incorporation of MPAs in fishery management procedures and the management of MPAs are the major areas where South Africa can improve its marine protection.

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