Western Cape Tourist AttractionsDe Hoop Marine Protected Area
Where? Adjacent to the De Hoop Nature Reserve in Cape Overberg, Western Cape
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.
De Hoop Marine Protected Area (MPA) lies adjacent to the De Hoop Nature Reserve on the Cape Overberg coastline, protecting 253 kmē between Stillbaai Point and Ryspunt, and extending three nautical miles offshore.
Marine protected areas generally conserve the sea alongside nature reserves. You can think of them as preserving a section of sea the way that nature reserves protect an area of land. What they do, in essence, is severely limit human interference. Fishing and any water activities are markedly limited, if not forbidden.
De Hoop Marine Protected Area is the only area to protect an especially beautiful intertidal system of soft sandstone and limestone platforms. The African black oystercatcher breeds in this inter-tidal zone, largely undisturbed, whilst the rock pools that rest in amongst these platforms are important breeding grounds for reef fish and a huge variety of invertebrates like starfish, sea cucumbers, mussels and urchins.
One of De Hoop's major success stories is the recovery of the galjoen, a migrant and over-fished species that is protected by the MPA. The biggest, and longest running, fish tagging monitoring and research programme - tagging well over 50 000 fish before releasing them - takes place at De Hoop. The project gathers important information for linefish management around the country.
The eastern shores of the Marine Protected Area are washed by deep water protecting a number of reef systems. These shores also provide sanctuary for a little colony of African penguins. Whilst the western section of the MPA is given over to huge migrant sand dunes.
De Hoop is a vital area for the southern right whale. The MPA and St Sebastian Bay combine to provide a critical nursery for as many as 80 percent of the cow-calf pairs on the South African coastline. This translates into as many as 350 whales at any one time within the boundaries of the Marine Protected Area.
As a result, De Hoop Nature Reserve is often referred to as a 'whale watcher's paradise'. The popular Whale Trail hiking route is along this shoreline, within the MPA.
But it is not whales alone that grace the waters of the De Hoop MPA. Shoaling pelagic species (those fish neither close to the ocean's bottom nor near shore), like yellowtail, great white sharks who feed on the afterbirths of southern right whales, and the humpbacked dolphin, whose numbers are dwindling, are also frequent visitors.
On the shoreline the MPA protects rock hyrax (dassies), porcupine, mongoose and sometimes leopard, who all feed on the intertidal platforms.