Marine Protected Areas day: Celebrating our sea and its shores
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When giant turtle hatchlings swim out to sea from the beaches of northern KZN, they may return only 20 to 30 years later to lay their eggs.
Hence the importance of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) where leatherback and loggerhead turtles are famous for their nesting sites; spots where they pop out their eggs that look like ping pong balls, cover them with sand, before heading graciously back into the blue yonder.
Story-teller Gcina Mhlope recalls witnessing this labour of love as a “once in a lifetime experience” and a reminder of the importance of MPAs, of which South Africa has 41 – five of which are in KZN.
Tomorrow she will sing a song in honour of the day declared Marine Protected Areas Day by the SA Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr) on a live webinar that will visit four of the sites, three in KZN and one in the Western Cape.
Also joining the 2pm webinar live will be Peter Jacobs, a clinical psychologist who now runs turtle tours in the Sodwana Bay area along with teaching local poverty-stricken rural children to surf.
He has a specific interest in eco-psychology.
“We’re becoming so disconnected with nature and the environment that it’s making us sick,” he said.
“Any game viewing activity has a positive psychological impact or therapeutic impact on the observer.
“It reduces stress, fear and anxiety and aids in releasing ‘feel good’ hormones.”
During the webinar he will talk about turtle and shark conservation in the far north of the province, “and the coelacanth population at Sodwana, coral reef conservation and the diving industry”.
An interactive and sociable Twitter chat will also be hosted by the members of the MPA Day Alliance.
“The Twitter chat is scheduled to start at 7pm and will see active and lively interactions between Alliance members, their followers and others who are interested in, and have a love for, Marine Protected Areas,” says Saambr.
“Follow MPA Day on Twitter @MPAsSA1 and be ready to answer some fun questions and show everyone your love for, and interest in Marine Protected Areas.”
Marine Protected Areas Day activities are not, however, confined to the day.
Photographers of all ages and skill levels have the rest of the month to enter pictures taken in any of South Africa’s MPAs.
They may submit entries three categories:
Scenery: sunrises, sunsets, and other scenic shots.
These may be above or below the water.
Creatures: marine and estuary wildlife, large and small, above or below the water.
Activities: friends and family (with their permission to be displayed) enjoying activities in MPAs, such as hiking, surfing, diving, snorkelling, kayaking.
Photographers may submit up to three photographs per category.
Conservation strategist Judy Mann said August 1 was declared Marine Protected Areas Day after visitors to uShaka Marine World drew blanks when asked if they could name any one of South Africa’s 41 MPAs.
“More than 80% could not.”
MPAs in KZN are the isiMangaliso MPA in the turtle realm; the uThukela MPA, which features offshore ancient estuaries, reefs and submarine canyons; the Aliwal Shoal MPA, an historic spawning ground of the critically endangered seabream ‒ seventy four; the Protea Banks MPA, which has aggregation sites for seven shark species and the Trafalgar MPA, where there are intertidal fossilised trees.
Saambr stressed that MPAs were important because they support adjacent fisheries; ensure healthy marine animals; help with job creation; provide resilience to climate change and contribute to research.
“There is a strong and necessary global call for the protection of more marine areas worldwide.
For more information about Marine Protected Areas in South Africa, visit: www.marineprotectedareas.org.za
Follow MPA Day on Facebook: MPASouthAfrica, Twitter: @MPAsSA1 and Instagram: @marineprotectedareassa
For the photography competition, submissions can be made at www.facebook.com/MPASouthAfrica
The deadline is August 31 and the winners will be announced on September 1.
Prizes include entrance tickets to various attractions, specialist tours, cruises, books and an A1 acrylic print.
Details can be found at www.saambr.org.za
The Independent on Saturday