South Africa’s declaration to establish one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Area’s around its Prince Edward Islands, is a marine conservation achievement of global significance that will help protect a suite of spectacular wildlife, including albatrosses, penguins and killer whales.
The Islands, which consist of Prince Edward and Marion Islands, are located almost 2000 km south of South Africa in the Southern Ocean, and form an important global biodiversity hotspot, which was subject to rampant poaching during the late 1990’s because of its remote location.
“This is a historic day in marine conservation in South Africa. All of South Africa’s current Marine Protected Areas are located very close inshore. The commitment of the first large offshore MPA moves South Africa into a new era of marine conservation,” Dr Deon Nel, head of the WWF Sanlam Living Waters Partnership, said.
The Prince Edward Islands are home to albatrosses, penguins and killer whales, that have been threatened in the past by illegal and irresponsible fishing practices. The islands support some 13% of King Penguins worldwide.
Five Species of Albatross breed there together with 14 species of petrels and five other species. The illegal fishing vessels were targeting Patagonian Toothfish, but the Albatross were killed as bycatch of these operations.
Given the scarcity of land masses in the Southern Ocean, these sub-Antarctic islands contain vast populations of seals and seabirds, which use these islands to breed and moult and are therefore critical to the conservation of such species
“South Africa has made a globally significant commitment to our oceans,” Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International said. “In particular, South Africa plays a key role with several other countries including Australia, France and New Zealand, in protecting the amazing biodiversity and commercially important fisheries of the sub-Antarctic and, thus, establishes a very effective preservation network for the Southern Ocean.”
The announcement came from South Africa’s Environment Minister, Marthinus Christoffel Johannes van Schalkwyk, after many years of close cooperation between the government and WWF.
(Photo, left, colony of king penguins)