Elation over Protection for Unique Southern Ocean Islands

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At a special celebratory ceremony in Cape Town last month, WWF South Africa presented Water and Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa with a ‘Gift to the Earth’ award.

The Minister received this accolade on behalf of the South African government, following the recent formal gazetting of the declaration of the Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) – South Africa’s first offshore MPA.

The Gift is symbolic, and is WWF's highest praise for publicly applauding a significant conservation achievement. The islands, which consist of Prince Edward and Marion Islands, are located almost 2,000km south of South Africa in the Southern Ocean. At 180,000km2 this MPA is approximately the combined size of the Free State Province, Lesotho and Swaziland.

The Prince Edward Islands form an important global biodiversity hotspot, which was subject to rampant poaching during the late 1990s. Protection of this island group significantly contributes to the conservation of global biodiversity and the fragile Southern Oceans, in particular.

Dr Morné du Plessis, WWF-SA’s Chief Executive Officer says, “South Africa is playing a leading role in establishing this massive conservation area, one of the first of its kind for an African country. WWF praises the government for its commitment to securing our marine biodiversity for future generations and acknowledges the Minister for her visionary leadership.” 

The declaration of this multi-use zone MPA 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 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.

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. 

“The WWF network remains committed to supporting the South African government to ensure adequate protection of this area. Although so remote, we are increasingly seeing the impact of human activities in the Southern Ocean through climate change and commercial fishing - among others. The proclamation of this MPA signals that government is aware of these issues and is committed to addressing them,” concludes Du Plessis.