South Africa makes marine conservation history by declaring Prince Edward Islands a marine protected area

Posted on 09 April 2013

WWF-South Africa (WWF-SA) is elated over Minister Edna Molewa’s recent formal announcement of the declaration of the Prince Edward Islands as a marine protected area (MPA) – Africa`s first offshore MPA.
Cape Town, South Africa: WWF-South Africa (WWF-SA) is elated over Minister Edna Molewa’s recent formal announcement of the declaration of the Prince Edward Islands as a marine protected area (MPA) – Africa`s first offshore MPA.

Dr Morné du Plessis, WWF-SA’s Chief Executive says, “This is a historic day for marine conservation in South Africa. This declaration demonstrates South Africa’s new commitment to protecting the Prince Edward Islands, an important national heritage and a crown jewel of our oceans. We praise the minister for her visionary leadership and commitment to securing our marine biodiversity for future generations.”

The marine biodiversity of the Prince Edward Islands is of global importance. The islands are home to a suite of spectacular marine wildlife, including albatrosses, penguins, killer whales and Patagonian toothfish stocks. Unfortunately this wildlife has been threatened by illegal and unsustainable fishing practices in the past, resulting in significant economic and ecological losses to South Africa.

WWF International’s Director General, Jim Leape, says, “It is inspiring to see such environmental leadership in South Africa, and I applaud Minister Molewa for her vision. Still too little of the world’s precious oceans are protected from exploitation, and this is a landmark victory for marine conservation – and hopefully a sign of more to come.”

“Protection of the Prince Edward Islands is a significant contribution to the conservation of global biodiversity and the fragile Southern Ocean, in particular. The WWF network remains committed to supporting the South African government in ensuring the adequate protection of this area for now and for future generations,” concludes du Plessis.

The islands, which consist of Prince Edward and Marion Islands, are located almost 2,000 kilometres south of South Africa in the Southern Ocean, and form an important global biodiversity hotspot, which was subject to rampant poaching during the late 1990s. Patagonian Toothfish otherwise known as Chilean Seabass (in northern markets) was poached around the islands and this was part of a wider phenomenon across the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters.

At 180,000km2, approximately the combined size of the Free State Province, Lesotho and Swaziland, the MPA is one of the world’s largest.

Today’s declaration follows a long and very successful collaboration between WWF-SA and the Department of Environmental Affairs. It comes almost seven years after South Africa’s then Minister of Environmental Affairs, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, initially announced his intention to declare the MPA.

WWF has worked closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs to complete a thorough planning and stakeholder consultation process. Plans developed included a legal analysis, spatial conservation plan and a draft management plan. Financing for much of this planning process was obtained from the private sector – through a sponsorship by Sanlam and the Charl van der Merwe Trust.
McNish Bay on the south coast of Prince Edward Island, typifies much of the steep, rugged nature of the islands' coasts.
© Peter Ryan, FitzPatrick Institute UCT
Cave Bay on the sheltered east coast of Prince Edward Island offers easy landing sites for seals and penguins. The lush vegetation results from manuring by the thousands of birds and seals that breed on the islands.
© Peter Ryan, FitzPatrick Institute UCT
A Marine Protected Area (MPA) around Prince Edward Islands will help protect a suite of spectacular wildlife, including albatrosses, penguins and killer whales.
© Samantha Petersen/WWF South Africa