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Gentoo Penguin is one of the species that will be afforded protection by South Africa's new Marine Protected Area. Photo: Priya Venkatesh (
Gentoo Penguin is one of the species that will be afforded protection by South Africa's new Marine Protected Area. Photo: Priya Venkatesh ( image

Southern Indian Ocean gains "huge" protected area

Posted on: 18 Apr 2013

South Africa has announced that its Prince Edward Islands sub-Antarctic territory will be declared a Marine Protected Area.

Using Marine Protected Areas (MPA) is a core strategy that national governments can employ to ensure sustainable use within their territorial waters and the surrounding ocean. BirdLife South Africa has applauded the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa for their announcement that the 18 million-ha MPA will be protected in this way – it will become one of the largest MPAs in the world.

“Many of the world’s most important areas for seabirds remain unprotected, so the news of the Prince Edward Island MPA is very welcome, as it will safeguard one of the 'crown jewels' for seabirds in the southern oceans. The MPA includes many of the critical feeding areas for the vast seabird colonies the island supports”, said Ben Lascelles, BirdLife Marine IBA Programme Officer.

“The site had been identified as a priority for seabird conservation in BirdLife’s new marine e-atlas. The e-atlas has been designed to give governments the data they need to make these momentous decisions. Protection of the sites within the e-atlas will help them to achieve the protection of 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas by 2020, a target that was agreed to through the Convention on Biological Diversity”.

The islands are internationally renowned for their important seabird colonies, which hold nearly half of the global population of Wandering Albatross, 13 per cent of the world’s King Penguins and, with 26 species, one of the highest numbers of varieties of breeding seabirds of any island in the world.

BirdLife International lists the islands as an Important Bird Area (IBA) in recognition of its irreplaceable biodiversity value. BirdLife is also working at identifying marine IBAs across the world’s oceans, and the new MPA overlaps with several proposed marine IBAs.

The establishment of a 12 nautical mile no-take zone around the islands will help to ensure that seabird species such as Gentoo Penguin and the Crozet Island subspecies of Imperial Shag, which feed exclusively within this area and which have suffered large decreases in recent times, will not face additional pressures from activities in their feeding ranges.

Dr Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager at BirdLife South Africa, commented: “This declaration represents the culmination of a lot of work by many dedicated scientists and conservationists over many years. Marine Protected Areas have great potential to protect seabirds and other marine biodiversity, and the scale and nature of the Prince Edward Islands MPA is impressive.”

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