The marine and coastal resources of South Africa are a rich and diverse national asset, providing important economic and social opportunities for the human population, which, in turn, has developed a strong reliance on these resources for commercial opportunity and gain, food, recreation, and transport. These resources have facilitated job creation and general economic upliftment in coastal regions. Increasing human and environmental pressure on the country’s marine and coastal ecosystems, however, has changed the functioning and structure of many of their components, and uncontrolled or mismanaged use has led to over-exploitation, degradation, and resource loss.
These pressures have driven an overall decline in marine productivity, creating significant socio-economic opportunity costs. Direct impacts by humans are exacerbated by the fact that sea water links and disperses marine populations over vast areas, easily spreading invasive alien species and pollutants. Climate change is also predicted increasingly to damage our marine and coastal resources. Our understanding of these effects remains speculative, but they could be as severe as those of the uncontrolled human exploitation that has taken place to date.
The general South African public, however, especially coastal stakeholders, appears to be increasingly aware of the value of our seas and coast and of the importance of effective management. Protection, in the form of marine protected areas and improved management, has most recently been receiving high priority at national and international levels, and several of the acts, policies, and protocols used to govern South Africa’s marine and coastal environment are either under review or have recently been revised to promote improvement. It is still too early to measure their effectiveness, but dramatic change for the better is required if the country is to benefit from the opportunities available and reverse the current negative trends.