Marine conservation protects South Africa’s extravagant variety of marine creatures and habitats. From the massive shoals that swim the icy oceans in the west to the tropical reefs, turtles and coelacanths in the east, South Africa’s marine protected areas conserve an astounding diversity of life.

Did you know?

Coelacanths – ancient fish once thought to be extinct – occur off the iSimangaliso marine protected area.

South Africa has a spectacular 3000km coastline. This is where the cold, nutrient-rich Atlantic meets the sub-tropical Indian Ocean, and nearby is the Southern Ocean, home to many whale species.

As a result, South Africa scores very high in the marine biodiversity stakes. It’s only appropriate then, that marine conservation protects large swathes of the coastline and adjoining oceans.

Even though this country only takes up 2% of the world’s land mass, an astonishing 16% of the world’s fish species swim off its shores.

Thanks to a concerted effort since 2003, South Africa has declared nearly 20% of its coastline protected by official marine reserves – close to the figure recommended by the World Conservation Union.

This is made up of 21 marine protected areas (along with some estuarine reserves). Some are no-take zones (where no fishing is allowed) while others allow limited harvests. The oldest one is the the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area, which was created back in 1964. Divers say it is the undersea equivalent of the Kruger National Park.

Marine conservation in South Africa protects some of the largest ‘no-take’ zones in the world. They are particularly effective for safeguarding slow-growing, long-lived species. As the population builds beyond a certain point within the marine park, the fish migrate to adjoining areas of the sea.

The most visited marine reserve is that at the Cape of Good Hope, which protects the seas around that distinctive finger-like peninsula pointing to the southern oceans.

The largest marine protected area in South Africa adjoins the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa’s sub-tropical north-eastern corner. It stretches for 145 km in length, protecting pristine beaches and subtropical reefs. This is where hundreds of loggerhead and gigantic leatherback turtles come to lay their eggs on hot summer nights.

There is only one MPA that you won’t be able to visit – the one that surrounds the South Africa’s remote Prince Edward islands in the southern ocean.