Kelp cutting illegal in marine protected areas

Kelp in the ocean.

The cutting and removing of kelp from a marine protected area is not only illegal but destroys the ecosystem.

According to Two Oceans Aquarium, South Africa is one of only a few countries in the world with natural kelp forests on its coast.

A Simon’s Town resident, who did not want to be named, expressed concern about large amounts of kelp being cut and pulled out at Water’s Edge Beach in Simon’s Town.

She said photos taken by her last week revealed a clear boat path out to sea and a yellow rock which had previously been covered by kelp was now clearly visible.

“The yellow rock used to be a ‘prize’ for regular swimmers when found in between the kelp. They would stand on it and watch the rich marine life move around them,” she said.

She said the multi-layered kelp wall preventing people being swept out to sea in currents and sharks from entering the water had now been destroyed.

She said when swimming under water one can see the bare rocks where kelp used to grow.

“Previously you had to swim through the kelp during low tide but now it’s not the case at all,” she said

She expressed concern for the penguins and other sea life who had little choice in where to go.

While many people might see kelp as a smelly seaweed with no function, it plays a number of important roles in the ecosystem, and even in death, kelp traps sand for dune formation and feeds insects.

Citizen scientist, author and film-maker, Craig Foster has written extensively about kelp and spent eight years in the water researching and studying it.

His book, Sea Change, with co-author, Ross Frylinck, takes you on a journey into the secret life of an almost unknown ecosystem – the kelp forest of southern Africa.

Mr Foster said harvesting an underwater kelp forest was the same as cutting down a rainforest.

Kelp is a keystone species because of its importance to the health and stability of the ecosystem, which is among the most productive ecosystems in the world.

“Each kelp plant is home to about 100 different animals, and kelp is the primary source of food and shelter for many animals. When cutting down one kelp plant, about a 100 animals are killed”, Mr Foster said.

Cutting and removing kelp from the ocean harmed a bio-diverse ecosystem, he said.

The ocean already faced chemical pollution, plastic pollution, overfishing and poaching, and to now have people removing the golden forests for their own personal convenience was shameful.

During his underwater exploration, the team made biological discoveries, which included 40 new animal behaviours and seven new species living in kelp forests, of which one, Heteromysis Fosteri, a shrimp,was named after Mr Foster.

“The kelp forests are one of the natural wonders of the ocean,” he said.

Table Mountain National Parks spokesman, Babalwa Dlangamandla, said they knew about the incident at Water’s Edge, and he confirmed it was illegal to cut and remove kelp from the area, which is a
SANParks marine protected area.

He said kelp could only be cut or harvested with a permit from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), and even then only in designated areas such as the Kommetjie coastline and on the Atlantic seaboard side.

“No legal harvesting takes place inside False Bay, and Simon’s Town falls within False Bay precinct, thus no kelp may be cut or harvested in the restricted zones of the marine protected area,” he said.

Suspicious activity can be reported to the marine protected areas office at 021 783 0234.

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