Garden Route Tourist AttractionsTsitsikamma Marine Protected Area
Where? Tsitsikamma, Eastern Cape / Garden Route, South Africa
The aim of a marine protected area is to conserve marine life. They take the form of a collaboration between civil society, communities and government that promote conservation and safeguard threatened marine species and important habitats.
Africa's oldest Marine Protected Area, Tsitsikamma, became the site of contested rezoning when, in November 2015, the protected status of the reserve changed as the Minister of Environmental Affairs announced that the government would allow recreational fishing.
Environmentalists are deeply disturbed that up to 1 000 registered fishermen can now fish 20 percent of the Marine Protected Area's shoreline.
This beautiful stretch of coast is one of the major tourism areas of the country. Up until the announcement there was a complete ban of fishing of the 200 species of fish, sharks and rays from 84 families, many of them endemic to South Africa, that the reserve protects.
Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area is considered one of the most important conservation areas in the country. Not only does it conserve 11 percent of the country's Temperate South Coast shoreline, but it also protects 11 of the 17 threatened fish species in South Africa. Some of these fish are considered more critically endangered than the rhino.
The Marine Protected Area, a neighbour to Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route, is a breeding ground for linefish and squid. Research shows that fish living in the Tsitsikamma survive up to thirty to forty years when they are not threatened by fishing. During this lifetime they produce millions of fish.
Fish that, apparently, spend their whole lives in one area, contrary to the commonly held belief that fish move around. The argument, before research proved otherwise, was that the prevention of fishing in one area would not necessarily help stabilise fish populations.
Instead research within local Marine Protected Areas has shown just how effective fish conservation can be. Not only are there more of them, but the average fish size is bigger, and the abundance of fish can be up to six times that of the area outside the Marine Protected Area.
In 2000 the government declared that the country's fish stocks were in a state of emergency. Today, just 15 years later, over 90 percent of fish have been removed from our coastline.
Studies sited by the Orca Foundation (who have mounted a petition to protect the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area) show how catch rates affect the productivity of fish. Those fish over 30 years of age, once caught, cannot be replaced.
What most of us do not understand about the sea is that despite the fact that it covers 70 percent of the earth's surface, the richest concentration of marine life is found on the shallow margins of countries and islands where they are easily exploited.
The role of marine protected areas, such as Tsitsikamma, is thus of vital importance.