Protected areas, both terrestrial and marine, form the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation ensuring resilience to harmful impacts including climate change or pollution, higher reproductive outputs and larger populations which shield against decline, making species less likely to become extinct at a local, regional or global scale.
The rate of land degradation and transformation in South Africa is occurring at a rapid rate of 60% – highlighting the urgent need for protecting critical areas. We do not have the luxury of time! Any further delay will likely transform key biodiversity areas beyond what can be rehabilitated. There is the risk of paper parks, but this should not preclude the protection of these critical habitats so that any further degradation can be halted
An analysis of scientific studies showed that fish biomass is, on average, 670% greater within ocean sanctuaries (i.e. fully protected areas) than in unprotected areas, and 343% greater than in partially protected areas (Sala and Giakoumi 2018).
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) act as a line fish refuge allowing fish populations to recover, breed and grow. This benefits neighbouring waters with “spill over” fish, resulting in more and bigger fish being caught in the open areas near to the MPA (SA MPAs 2022). For example, the catch of endemic seabream in the Goukamma MPA and adjacent areas. (Kerwath et al. 2013)
Protected areas are nature-based solutions to climate change. Through conserving, restoring and better managing ecosystems they can be more effective at sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and locking it in carbon sinks which in turn will help to keep the temperature of the earth below 5°C.
The protection of natural growth forests results in a reduction of atmospheric CO2 by 0.9 gigatons to 2.6 gigatons annually. This equates to 4 to 12% of the annual CO2 emissions reductions needed by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C
The recent UNEP/WCMC Strengthening Synergies report found that conserving 30% of land in strategic locations could safeguard 500 gigatons of carbon stored in vegetation and soils – around half the world’s vulnerable terrestrial carbon stocks – and reduce the extinction risk of nearly 9 out of 10 threatened terrestrial species.