The ocean is Earth’s life support system, regulating our climate and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It nurtures and sustains life on our planet. However, our oceans are under constant pressure from factors such as climate change and overfishing.
For this reason, marine protected areas (MPAs) have been created worldwide. These stretches of coastline are designated as “safe spaces” to allow ecosystems and the creatures and plants living in them to recover – and thrive.
But many MPAs, particularly in South Africa, are little known and understood and poorly policed. With this in mind, a small group of concerned people got together in 2021 and brainstormed how to raise awareness about MPAs, with the ultimate goal of raising public interest to ensure their ongoing protection.
The group, which came to be known as the MPA Alliance, came up with the idea of declaring an “MPA Day” to garner public attention and focus awareness on these “game reserves of the sea”. The first MPA Day was celebrated on 1 August, 2021. All work done by all entities on this campaign was 100% pro bono from the start.
In 2022, the alliance wanted to build on the success of the first MPA Day by extending its reach beyond South Africa to an international audience – setting MPA Day on course to become an annual global awareness day in support of sustaining our life-giving but delicate marine ecosystems.
The challenge was to do more, extend the campaign’s reach and garner more awareness, but once again with zero budget – a goal that all the partner organisations embraced with gusto.
To bring the MPA message to a wider audience in 2022, the MPA Alliance’s strategy included a Twitter chat, a webinar featuring credible scientists talking about marine protection areas, a photographic competition, and more.
We also wanted MPA Day in August 2022 to form part of the conversations ahead of the last round of negotiations for a United Nations high seas treaty and the COP27 climate conference in Egypt in November 2022.
Again, all partners – from public relations and social media agencies to influencers – offered their time and expertise pro bono, making MPA Day 2022 a zero-cost campaign.
Partner organisations included the South African Association for Marine Biological Research, the Two Oceans Aquarium, I AM WATER Ocean Conservation, WildOceans, WWF South Africa and Youth4MPAs, as well as Flow Communications and Olivia Jones Communications.
Because of its cost-effectiveness, immediacy and global reach, we planned to run most of the campaign on social media.
The campaign goals were to:
We used the MPA Alliance’s existing social media platforms – mainly Twitter – as the key tools for messaging to create a bigger network of people passionate about marine conservation and the environment, and to fuel global conversations around MPA Day. We identified key spokespeople in the alliance for media interviews.
The social media campaign went hand in hand with PR efforts in print, broadcast and online media.
MPA Day 2022 included the following events and initiatives:
The overarching message was that we all benefit from healthy oceans, by showing the role MPAs play in ensuring the survival of the planet.
MPA Day 2022 on 1 August 2022 was an unprecedented success, growing in stature, reach and influence beyond our wildest dreams!
Thanks to the power of partnerships and social media, MPA Day 2022 was celebrated in 12 countries – 11 more than the previous year. It has grown from a small, idealistic South African initiative into a global marine protection awareness campaign, and we are thrilled to see it gaining momentum and going from strength to strength.
Organisations and individuals from South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Bangladesh, Ghana, Nepal, Kenya and Tanzania took part in 2022. This is remarkable, given that this non-profit campaign was run organically by a collective of marine enthusiasts with no budget whatsoever.
Here are some of the results we achieved:
A highlight was the scientific community’s enthusiastic interest in MPA Day, and the number of ordinary people – including children – who supported it around the world.
Building on this success, the 2023 event attracted even more support – placing MPA Day on track to become a truly global annual event. The ocean needs us as much as we need it!