South Africa designate Prince Edward Islands marine protected area

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South Africa designate Prince Edward Islands marine protected area

April 19, 2013 - 04:20

At 180,000 square km, Marine Protected Area (MPA} is South Africa’s first offshore

Marion Island, Prince Edward Islands

South Africa has made marine conservation history by designating the Prince Edward Islands a Marine Protected Area. (MPA). Consisting of Prince Edward and Marion Islands, the islands are situated approximately 2,000 kilometres south of South Africa in the Southern Ocean and encompass an area of 180,000 square km. A biodiversity hotspot, the sub-Antarctic islands are a haven for spectacular marine wildlife including albatrosses, penguins, killer whales and Patagonian toothfish.

Unfortunately, the area’s wildlife has been threatened due to illegal and unsustainable fishing practices. During the late 1990s, Patagonian toothfish, also known as Chilean sea bass in northern markets, was subject to rampant poaching around the islands.

At 180,000 square km, the new Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA} is the first South African offshore MPA and one of the world's largest, significantly contributing to the protection of offshore and deep ocean areas.

Given the scarcity of landmasses in the Southern Ocean, the islands are home to vast numbers of seals and seabirds, which utilize them to breed and moult. The islands are critical to the conservation of such species, as they are forced to aggregate in high densities where they remain vulnerable to disturbance and introduced predators or pathogens.

The protected area will encompass a 12 nautical mile sanctuary (no take) zone; 4 restricted zones, in which fishing is limited; and a controlled zone linking the 4 restricted areas. This zone is to be managed as a low impact zone that links the 4 zones spatially.

"This is a historic day for marine conservation in South Africa,” said Dr Morné du Plessis, WWF-SA's Chief Executive. “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", he added.

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