While 12 percent of the land on Earth is protected, less than 3% of the ocean has meaningful protection from fishing, pollution and resource extraction. Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of global initiative Mission Blue, visited South Africa last month in a whirlwind tour of that ravishing marine environment to help generate community support for more ocean protection. And what a success it was. In partnership with the Sustainable Seas Trust, Dr. Sylvia Earle and the Mission Blue team visited six different communities along the South African coast and engaged local ocean lovers, community leaders and citizens to declare their waters a Hope Spot, special conservation areas that are critical to the health of the ocean — Earth’s blue heart.
And what began as an idea of conservation, was quickly embraced by the communities. A local newspaper made an especially eloquent and comprehensive case for the development of South African Hope Spots:
“The concept of public involvement is hugely important to the success of the Hope Spots, which is why those being set up in South Africa will strive to engage not only scientists and conservationists, but scholars and schoolchildren, civilians and sportsmen, government officials and entrepreneurs. The health of our oceans reflects directly upon the health of humanity as a whole, which is precisely why the effort to conserve them must not be exclusive; why people from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds must be encouraged to take a proactive interest in their future. The benefits of establishing Hope Spots in South Africa are manifold- for not only will they help to safeguard the rich marine biodiversity that is the country’s heritage, they will also have positive ramifications on a human level. In 2011, coastal resources were responsible for R85 billion of the country’s income, making them worth nearly 4% of South Africa’s GDP. Evidently, the conservation of these habitats carries a considerable financial benefit; additionally, healthy coastal ecosystems including mangroves, marshes and seagrass beds play an invaluable role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replacing it with precious oxygen.” [READ MORE]
The waters off South Africa are rich with marine life, from large apex predators like the Great White Shark to the reefs and microorganisms that underpin the ocean ecosystem. The call for conservation is as much for these organisms as for the human settlements that abut the coast and rely on its sustainable systems for survival.
All in all, six new Community Hope Spots were created off the shores of South Africa: False Bay (all of False Bay from Cape Point to Cape Agulhas); Cape Whale Coast (stretches from Rooi Els to Quoin Point and includes offshore islands, just over 200km of coast line and then out to sea); Knysna (includes the Knysna Estuary and marine coast and offshore waters), Plett Hope Spot (links the Robberg MPA to Tsitsikamma MPA), Algoa Bay and the islands (this sanctuary area includes the principal breeding colonies of the African penguin, now down to 2% of historical population levels) and the Aliwal Shoal area in KwaZulu-Natal. In total this is a good piece of the South African Coast as a launchpad for further ocean conservation in the region.
This very special expedition was impossible without Mission Blue partners Scubapro, Light and Motion, Sustainable Seas Trust, I am Water Conservation Trust, Shark Explorers, and Kip Evans Photography – and of course the local communities that rallied behind this call for ocean conservation.
Mission Blue looks forward to continuing its public engagement for ocean conservation on a global scale into 2015 and will launch more expeditions to raise awareness around Hope Spots. With hope, the global community will protect 20% of the ocean by 2020 – for the sake of all the creatures in the sea, and for us, whose survival depends on a healthy, functioning ocean.