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As of 2020, South Africa has 42 Marine Protected Areas - covering 5% of our national coastal waters.


MPAs help manage part of the marine environment to promote fisheries sustainability, keep marine ecosystems working properly, and protect the range of species living there, helping people to benefit from the ocean. In South Africa, MPAs are declared through the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act. 


The purpose of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act is to provide for the conservation and protection of ecologically viable areas in South Africa that characterize the country's biological diversity and natural land and seascapes. This Act provides for the declaration and categorization of different kinds of protected areas (including national, provincial, and local protected areas). Additionally, it provides for the management authorities, plans, monitoring and restrictions in respect of protected areas. This Act promotes intergovernmental co-operation and public consultation in matters concerning or related to protected areas.  Furthermore, sections 80 to 85 regulate issues pertaining to the acquisition of rights in or to land. Finally, the Act includes several miscellaneous matters, such as regulations, offences, and penalties for contravention of the Act.

This Act amends parts of the Environmental Conservation Act 73 of 1989 and is amended by the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Amendment Act 31 of 2004, National Environmental Laws Amendment Act 14 of 2009, National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Amendment Act 15 of 2009, and National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Amendment Act 21 of 2014. National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Act 2 of 2022

All South African MPAs are managed, at the highest level, by the Government through the Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries. In practice, most MPAs are attached to existing Nature Reserves and the managing authorities of those reserves then take responsibility for those MPAs too. However in South Africa with some Marine Protected Areas there are problematic issues related to governance and local communities. Local inhabitants view Marine Protected Areas deprive people of livelihoods and rights and thus making it very difficult to protect certain areas. Laws and regulations pertaining to these parks are not adhered to.​

The IUCN provides a global definition of MPAs and notes that an area needs to meet the IUCN protected area definition to qualify and be recognized as an MPA :

"A protected marine intertidal or subtidal area, within territorial waters, EEZs or in the high seas, set aside by law or other effective means, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features. It provides degrees of preservation and protection for important marine biodiversity and resources; a particular habitat (e.g. a mangrove or a reef) or species, or sub-population (e.g. spawners or juveniles) depending on the degree of use permitted. In MPAS, activities (e.g. of scientific, educational, recreational, extractive nature, including fishing) are strictly regulated and could be prohibited."

“A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated, and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”

Image by Look Up Look Down Photography

The UNESCO World Heritage List includes 50 marine protected areas across 37 countries that are recognized by the international community for their Outstanding Universal Value to humanity. World Heritage recognition comes with the responsibility to protect these Marine Protected Areas. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Park. 

iSimangaliso Wetland Park incorporates an astonishing variety of habitats from the Ubombo Mountains to grasslands, forests, wetlands, mangroves and ancient dunes, magnificent beaches and coral reefs. This awesome KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Park stretches along the Zululand coast from Maphelane in the south to Kosi Bay in the north, on the Mozambique border.

Covering 220km (137 miles) of coastline, this KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Park brings together eight inter-locking ecosystems and ten unique destinations: Maphelane, Lake St. Lucia/St. Lucia Estuary, Cape Vidal and the Eastern Shores, Charters Creek and the Western Shores, False Bay, Sodwana Bay, uMkhuze, Lake Sibaya, Coastal Forest and Kosi Bay.  

Four wetland sites within the park are Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance). iSimangaliso Wetlands Park in KwaZulu-Natal protects rare swamp forests, Africa's largest estuary and some of the world's highest coastal vegetated dunes, which are 25 000 years old.

The Convention on Wetlands is the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975. Since then, almost 90% of UN member states, from all the world’s geographic regions, have acceded to become “Contracting Parties”. So9uth Africa has 28 Ramsar sites. The Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

Oceans Alive Conservation Trust has recently visited various areas within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and we are concerned about the future of biodiversity and the various habitats within the park. Global warming is a growing concern and so is the amount of pollution. Although some issues are more alarming than others and not so easy to resolve, other issues must be addressed and can be resolved with proper infrastructure, efficient management and law enforcement.  

Image by NOAA

Marine Protected Areas are classified as protected areas for the purpose to preserve habitat and species for all future generations. It is not a question of if we should protect them. We must for the sake of the Ocean and all who depend on it. 

The Oceans Alive Conservation Trust - Rivers To Ocean Project will be looking into what is happening with South Africa's Marine Protected Areas, identify current issues and what must be done about it. For more information contact

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