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South Africa launchs 4th largest marine park in the world 07.05.09

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 importance which will help protecting a suite of spectacular wildlife, including albatrosses, penguins and killer whales.

The announcement of Environment Minister Marthinus Christoffel Johannes van Schalkwyk, came after many years of close cooperation between the government and WWF.

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.

“This is a historic day in marine conservation in South Africa. All of South Africa’s current MPAs 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 is among the world’s most important and diverse regions. But the islands, home to albatrosses, penguins and killer whales, have been threatened by illegal and irresponsible fishing practices in the past. The illegal fishing vessels around the PEIs were targeting Patagonian Toothfish. And the Albatross species were killed as bycatch in these operations.

Given the scarcity of land masses in the Southern Ocean, 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

The islands support some 13% of King Penguins worldwide, and five Species of Albatross breed there together with 14 species of petrels and five other species.

“South Africa has made a globally significant commitment to our oceans through its intention to declare this large MPA.,” 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, through this, helps to establish a fully representative, viable and effective MPA network for the Southern Ocean.”

1. The Biodiversity of the Island

At 180 000 square kilometres the Prince Edward Islands will be the fourth largest MPA in the world.

The world’s 5 largest Marine Protected Areas:

1 = North Western Hawaiian Islands (USA) = 363 000 km square.

2 = Great Barrier Reef at 344 000 km square

3 = Phoenix Islands at 184 000 km square.

4 = (To be) Prince Edward Islands at 180 000km square.

5 = Macquarie Island at 162 000 km square

Given the scarcity of land masses in the Southern Ocean, sub-Antarctic islands contain vast populations of seals and seabirds, which use these islands to breed and moult. This means that these islands are critical to the conservation of such species as they are forced to aggregate in high densities where they are vulnerable to disturbance and the threat of introduced predators or pathogens.

Three species of seal breed at the Prince Edward Islands, namely; Southern Elephant Seal and the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic Fur Seal. The islands support 33% (16 000 animals) of the world population of sub-Antarctic Fur Seals and 0.2 % (760 animals) of Antarctic Fur Seals. 0.26% (1800 animals) of the Southern Elephant Seals population is supported on Prince Edward Islands.

Four Species of penguin breed at the Prince Edward Islands: King, Gentoo, Macaroni and Southern Rockhopper. The islands support some 13% (450 000 birds) of King Penguins worldwide, 4% (750 000 birds) of Macaroni Penguins and 0,5% (3000 birds) of Gentoo Penguins. The population of Southern Rockhopper Penguins is about 5% of the world population. Penguins dominate the avian biomass on the islands.

Five Species of Albatross breed on the Prince Edward Islands, together with 14 species of petrels and five other species. The islands support 44% (7300 birds) of all Wandering Albatross, 10% (21 800 birds) of Grey Headed Albatross, 21% (15 000 birds) of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and approximately 10% (4400 birds) of Dark-mantled and 2% (700 birds) of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross.

Taken from: Chown, S & Froneman, P. (2008) The Prince Edward Islands – Land-sea interactions in a changing environment.

2. The Charl van der Merwe Trust

Charl van der Merwe (4 April 1930 – 12 September 2002), a Civil Engineer (University of Cape Town 1951) and at the time of his “retirement” in December 1992, Executive Chairman of Murray and Roberts Construction, was a penguin fanatic. In the ten years before his death he travelled broadly to observe and study each of the eighteen penguin species in the wild.

Apart from penguins, his other great love was Bushveld trees. His love of penguins and trees was the most visible manifestation of his enormous passion for nature conservation and as such he was a very active trustee of WWF-South Africa. Even more significant was that he allocated a substantial amount of his wealth to a charitable trust- the Charl van der Merwe Trust which he established in 1991. The Trust has supported various charitable causes since its inception, but nature conservation has always received the largest allocation of money.

Currently, conservation projects under the auspices of Birdlife South Africa (African Penguin research), WWF South Africa (As Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries), SANCCOB (penguin and seabird rehabilitation, SeaWeb (Last Ocean Project for the Conservation of the Ross Sea) and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (raptor rehabilitation) are supported by this Trust.

Peter Shield

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