S. Africa Maps First Deep Sea Preserve

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Byline: Agence France-Presse

DURBAN, South Africa -- Underwater canyons, deep-sea coral reefs and sponge banks are part of a unique ecosystem that South Africa wants to save within its first deep-sea marine protected area.

After 10 years of consultations, South Africa has mapped the boundaries for the proposed reserve stretching 60 miles from the eastern KwaZulu-Natal coast.

The mapping required synthesizing the many divergent interests in the Indian Ocean waters, with 40 industries from fishing to gas lines to Jet Skis operating in an area home to about 200 animal species and their ecosystems.

"All of this data was then entered into conservation planning software in order to identify areas of high biodiversity while avoiding areas of high (economic) pressure," said Tamsyn Livingstone, the researcher who heads the project.

The conservation area is being born in a spirit of compromise, which will allow people and companies to continue using the protected waters in zones designated as lower-risk threats to biodiversity.

The scheme still needs to be passed into law, but would join South Africa's existing network of marine preserves strung along its 1,800-mile coast stretching from the warm Indian Ocean to the cold southern Atlantic.

South Africa has embraced this "participatory" method to protecting species living in its water, an approach pioneered in California and Australia.

Global goals for protecting biodiversity have been debated for two weeks at a U.N. summit in Nagoya, Japan, in an effort to set goals on saving habitats which would help to end the mass extinction of species.

Environmental groups want 20 percent of coastal and marine areas protected, they say China and India are lobbying for six percent or lower. …