The mission of the South African MPA Forum is to work with all the role players in the SA MPA sector to maintain and improve communication, management and training of staff in all our MPAs. The Forum will identify priority projects that require implementation by the MPA Coordinator, who will integrate these projects into his annual work plan for project management to completion and report back at the next MPA Forum Event.

The Forum has 3 primary objectives:

  • Improve MPA management effectiveness and capacity development
  • Foster collaboration and information sharing between MPA stakeholders in Southern Africa
  • The implementation of an integrated, multi-stakeholder approach to MPA Governance in Southern Africa

Through its secretariat and members, the Forum strives to bring together key role players in the South African MPA sector from Government, Management Agencies, Research Organizations and Academia, NGO’s, Coastal Communities and others to improve coordination between stakeholders and support capacity development across the sector.

Why MPA’s?

Although oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and play a critical role in regulating our climate and providing food resources, less than 2.3%  are formally protected , compared to some 10% of our terrestrial areas.

Whilst many marine areas previously enjoyed de facto protection due to their remoteness, advancing technology and progressive over-exploitation of marine resources has led to the rapid expansion of the human footprint on our oceans and the resultant need for more formal protection measures.

Many marine industries are also hugely wasteful and have widespread ecosystem impacts beyond their target resource.

Today, some 90% of the world’s commercial fish stocks are considered either fully- or overexploited. Simultaneously, coastal environments are facing related challenges as growing coastal populations have led to increased development pressures, habitat destruction, pollution and coastal erosion – all of which pose a growing threat to marine biodiversity.

In South Africa fishing is one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity with many commercial line fish species considered over-exploited and, in some cases, even collapsed. Coastal development is also placing increasing pressure on marine biodiversity, while other threats include reduced freshwater flows into the marine environment, pollution, alien invasive species and climate change.

In the face of these challenges, global recognition of the importance of proper marine resource management is growing with South Africa at the forefront of developing long-term strategies in this regard. The implementation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is one that has been employed worldwide, not only to address many of the threats to marine and coastal ecosystems, but also to meet a wide range of human needs- education, fisheries management, recreation, income generation and research, among others.

Effectively implemented MPA’s benefit both people and the planet in the following ways:

  • Coastal protection: MPAs protect habitats that provide a buffer against the impacts of climate change and a level of insurance against natural disasters. Mangroves can mitigate the impacts of tropical storms, while coral reefs can prevent coastal erosion. In other words, well-placed MPAs defend coastal property and infrastructure to some degree.
  • Species survival and reproduction: MPAs can protect critical habitats, including migration routes, places of refuge against predators, spawning grounds and nursery areas. In other words, they support the reproduction and survival of species, including many valuable fish stocks.
  • Fisheries benefits: Globally, MPAs have been shown to increase fish size, density, biomass and species richness (Lester et al. 2009). These increases are also seen beyond the boundaries of the protected area, through the so-called spill-over effect. This spill-over effect applies to larvae, juvenile and adult fish moving beyond MPA boundaries (Halpern, 2003; Lester et al., 2009; Harrison et al., 2012). The community composition outside the protected area becomes like that inside, essentially exporting recovery beyond the protected zone (Russ & Alcala, 2010). As such, MPAs are an important tool in stock replenishment, long-term food security and fishing-related livelihoods.
  • Carbon storage: Increasingly, coastal ecosystems are recognized for their important role in fighting climate change through carbon sequestration – and, conversely, their potential to become sources of carbon emissions when degraded (Crooks et al., 2011). Coastal vegetation – such as sea grass beds, mangroves and salt marshes – stores and sequesters carbon very effectively (Murray et al., 2011). The protection and restoration of coastal vegetation could provide coastal and island communities with important economic opportunities on the carbon offset market (Hastings et al., 2014).
  • Jobs and commerce: MPAs can support livelihoods for families and communities, as they are known to attract and sustain coastal tourism and recreation. This supports growth of employment and commerce associated with these sectors at the local, regional and national level. They can also create jobs for managers and researchers (Balmford et al., 2004).
  • Cultural value: Although difficult to quantify, the ocean provides important cultural services – aesthetic, artistic, educational, recreational, scientific and spiritual.

MPA Forum Secretariat

The MPA Forum is a collaborative structure developed by WWF South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts. While the first MPA Forum event was held at De Hoop in 2007, it was only in 2015 that an MPA Forum Secretariat was created with appointment of a fulltime MPA Forum Coordinator. The coordinator is responsible for organising the annual MPA Forum and training events, as well as overseeing the implementation priority projects identified by the MPA Forum members.

The Secretariat also aims to build capacity by;

  • Creating networking opportunities between all stakeholders in the SA MPA sector
  • Sharing information between MPA stakeholders. This includes relevant research, training opportunities, news and other developments
  • Identifying current issues and challenges and potential solutions which can then be taken forward for implementation by the Secretariat or other stakeholders.


The MPA Forum Secretariat is currently supported by Rand Merchant Bank for a period of three years. They fund the secretariat costs with DEA O&C funding the annual MPA Forum event and MPA staff training course costs. The MPA Forum Secretariat then organizes the event working closely with DEA O&C and is responsible for all planning, budgeting, event agenda, invitations, booking the event venue and logistics.


The Secretariat operates across the entire SA MPA sector and our partners include:

  • Government – DEA O&C (Department of Environmental Affairs Oceans and Coast)
  • National conservation bodies like SANParks,
  • Provincial conservation bodies i.e. CapeNature, ECPTA, KZN Wildlife,
  • Municipalities that manage MPA’s i.e. City of Cape Town and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.
  • Funders i.e. DEA and Rand Merchant Bank
  • Institutions of higher learning i.e. UCT, CPUT, NMMU
  • Research institutions ie SAEON, ORI, SAIAB