With the rapid degradation and over-exploitation of our marine environments, more and more countries are beginning to realise the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). A Marine Protected Area is an area of sea and/or coastline that is especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biodiversity and natural and cultural resources through being managed in a structured and legal manner.
If properly designed and managed, MPAs play vitally important roles in protecting marine habitats and biodiversity through:
- Conserving representative samples of biodiversity and ecosystems
- Protecting critical sites for the reproduction and growth of species
- Allowing sites to recover from the stresses of exploitation and other human related impacts
- Providing settlement and growth areas for marine species so as to allow for spillover of these species into surrounding exploited areas
- Providing areas for marine based environmental education and for raising awareness regarding marine related issues
- Providing sites for nature-based tourism which is carried out in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner
- Providing undisturbed sites for scientific research that allow long term monitoring which helps to guide the management of the MPAs
With regards to fisheries stock management, MPAs provide benefits to protecting specific life stages of commercial species and in many cases protect the spawning and nursery grounds. These spawning grounds then act as dispersion centres for the supply of larvae and juveniles into the fishing grounds. Through habitat protection, feeding grounds are also protected. With the spillover of commercial species from MPAs local communities can expect improved catch rates.
1 of 12: Southern Right whale mother and calf diving, Western Cape, South Africa, De Hoop Marine Protected Area
2 of 12: Bull Rays swimming in the shallows of Langebaan Lagoon and feeding on sand prawns and hermit crabs, West Coast National Park, Western Cape, South Africa
3 of 12: An aerial view of waves breaking along the beach within the West Coast National Park, Western Cape, South Africa
4 of 12: Cape Clawless Otter emerging from the sea, Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area, Garden Route National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa
5 of 12: African Penguin emerging from the sea, Bird Island, Algoa Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa
6 of 12: Cape Cormorant incubating its eggs, Malgas Island, West Coast National Park, Western Cape, South Africa
7 of 12: A Cape Gannet stares intently past its partner, Malgas Island, West Coast National Park, South Africa
8 of 12: Seaweeds washed ashore and lying in shallow water, Agulhas National Park, Western Cape, South Africa
9 of 12: A Ghost Crab feeds in the surf zone of the Trafalgar Marine Protected Area. Southern KwaZulu Natal. South Africa
10 of 12: Aerial view of the archaeological fish traps that lie on the coastline of the De Hoop Marine Protected Area, Western Cape, South Africa
11 of 12: Fish tagging monitoring project, De Hoop Marine Protected Area, Western Cape, South Africa
12 of 12: Small-scale line fisher with his catch of reef-fish, Struisbaai, Western Cape, South Africa
Visit African Conservation Photography for a full gallery of Marine Protected Area images.