KwaZulu Natal Tourist AttractionsiSimangaliso Marine Protected Area
Where? iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Elephant Coast, KwaZulu Natal
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.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the largest marine protected area (MPA) in South Africa. Up until February 2016 the country conserved roughly 21 Marine Protected Areas, when an announcement by the government outlined its intention to add a further network of 22 new Marine Protected Areas - part of an initiative known as Operation Phakisa.
In total this will bring the protection of the country's coastline to 70 000 km˛.
Isimangaliso Marine Protected Area, before the announcement, combined two adjoining Marine Protected Areas – St Lucia and Maputaland. Fishing and harvesting were strictly controlled, and in some areas no fishing was allowed at all.
Operation Phakisa intends withdrawing these two Marine Protected Areas and extending the boundaries of the iSimangaliso Marine Protected Area even further. It will stretch from the border with Mozambique to Cape St Lucia lighthouse in the south, 34 nautical miles offshore in the north and as much as 58 miles offshore in the south (most of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park's coastline, in other words).
At the moment iSimangaliso Marine Protected Area protects the world's southern-most coral reefs, considered one of the most important breeding sites for leatherback and loggerhead turtles. These reefs are home to around 1 200 species of fish, 43 different types of hard corals and 11 soft corals, star fish, urchins, sea cucumbers, octopus, cuttlefish and a number of predators like kingfish, tuna and sharks.
The Marine Protected Area also protects the coelacanth, an ancient fish that was, until recently, considered extinct.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a coastal treasure trove. Within its boundaries are Kosi Bay, a coastal forest, Lake Sibaya, Sodwana Bay, uMkhuze, Lake St Lucia, Cape Vidal, Maphelane, Charters Creek and False Bay (a bay just beyond the town of Hluhluwe).
The park in its entirety is a World Heritage Site containing three major lake systems, the bulk of the country's remaining swamp forests, eight interlinking ecosystems, ancient fishing traditions, coastal dunes that date back 25 000 years and over 520 bird species.
To quote Nelson Mandela: 'iSimangaliso must be the only place on the globe where the oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world's biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world's oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world's biggest marine mammal (the whale)'.