Cape Town - Conservation champions have praised recent steps taken by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to protect the environment, having gazetted three new marine protected areas (MPAs) within South African National Parks (SANParks).

The Addo Elephant National Park MPA, Robben Island MPA (to be managed by Table Mountain National Park) and Namaqua National Park MPA form part of 20 new national MPAs gazetted last week.

This declaration is the culmination of years of work by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) SANParks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the DEA.

These MPAs come into effect on August 1.

Conservation bodies also welcomed the department's announcement that the weakened sulphur dioxide emission limits have been withdrawn and opened for public comment following litigation by groundWork and the Centre for Environmental Rights.

According to SANParks national marine co-ordinator Dr Ané Oosthuizen, with the three added MPAs, the new network increased the conservation footprint of South Africa’s oceans from 0.43% to 5% and was a major achievement for conservation.

“The new MPAs will contribute to the conservation of our oceans, islands and coastal habitats, protect threatened species such as penguins and rebuild overexploited species such as linefish, abalone and rock lobster.

“They will help secure ecosystem services, support recreational, tourism and educational activities, as well as subsistence, recreational and commercial fishing. MPAs help keep ecosystems resilient in the face of climate change,” Oosthuizen said.

The planning towards some of these MPAs started as far back as 2006, such as the Addo Elephant National Park MPA, by SANParks, and the Sanbi Offshore MPA project, she said. Hundreds of planning and stakeholder meetings and negotiations with communities and industries, such as oil and gas, mining, fisheries and aquaculture, took place.

Planners and lawyers spent five years developing the shape, size and regulations for these MPAs, with many compromises on all sides.

Greenpeace Africa spokesperson Chris Vlavianos said: “By deliberately protecting 20 designated marine areas, the DEA is displaying commendable leadership that can guide the way for other African countries to protect our oceans.

"Greenpeace Africa celebrates this move by the department while negotiations with the UN around establishing a Global Treaty to create a network of ocean sanctuaries are ongoing.”

Greenpeace Africa would, however, like to see the department being as progressive and proactive on climate change, water and air pollution.

“The withdrawal of the unlawfully weakened sulphur dioxide limits is undoubtedly a wise move which is also to be celebrated. However, civil society organisations should not have had to take the department to court in order for that to have happened. The department needs to show South Africans that it is progressive enough to take bold action at all levels, instead of defending polluters and weakening legislation to accommodate them.”

Last week, Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane published her intention to amend the Listed Activities and Associated Minimum Standards that were gazetted on May 22.

The intention of the amendment is to provide for existing plants to comply with a sulphur dioxide minimum emission limit of 1000mg/Nm3 instead of 500mg/Nm3. This means that existing plants would reduce emissions from the current standard of 3500mg/Nm3 to 1000mg/Nm3.

 

 

This is a significant reduction and would still lead to improvements in ambient air quality.