Research Papers

St Helena Bay (southern Benguela) then and now: muted climate signals, large human impact

Published in: African Journal of Marine Science
Volume 34, issue 4, 2012 , pages: 559–583
DOI: 10.2989/1814232X.2012.689672
Author(s): L HutchingsDepartment of Environmental Affairs, South Africa, A JarreMarine Research (MA-RE) Institute, South Africa, T LamontDepartment of Environmental Affairs, South Africa, M van den BergDepartment of Environmental Affairs, South Africa, SP KirkmanDepartment of Environmental Affairs, South Africa


The development of suitable reference states for ecosystem-based management requires documentation of changes in structure and functioning of marine ecosystems, including assessment of the relative importance of bottom-up and top-down processes as drivers of change. We used monitoring data available from St Helena Bay, the most productive bay and an important nursery area situated on the west coast of South Africa, during 1950–2010 to reveal changes in the abiotic and biotic components. St Helena Bay in the 1950s showed similarities to 2000–2010 in terms of wind patterns, hydrology and phytoplankton. Upwelling, oxygen and nutrient concentrations in subthermocline water displayed pronounced decadal-scale variability. Primary production in St Helena Bay is variable, but consistently higher than that on the adjacent Namaqua shelf. Zooplankton size composition and biomass in August have changed markedly since the 1950s. During 2001–2010, mesozooplankton biomass in autumn was considerably lower than in summer, probably due to predation by small pelagic fish. Pelagic fish catch patterns and distributions have altered dramatically. Conservation measures, implemented to reverse past negative human impact, have benefitted marine mammals, the abundance of which has increased in the area, but additional conservation measures are necessary to reverse the decline in African penguins Spheniscus demersus. St Helena Bay shows a muted response to long-term change in the southern Benguela, with marked decadal variability but no clear long-term trend in oceanography and biogeochemistry. Changes in ecosystem boundary conditions and fishing pressure cannot be ignored as important drivers of change in the southern Benguela since the 1950s.

Get new issue alerts for African Journal of Marine Science