National Marine Month

Last month South Africa observed National Marine Month. This is our nation’s effort to create awareness around SA’s marine and coastal environments, to use them sustainably and to conserve these resources for the benefit of all our people and the economy. Billions of us depend on the ocean for our livelihoods. Let’s maintain momentum this November, showing the world how we, South African are committed to protecting the oceans that hug our shores.

HERE’S HOW you benefit from the ocean, even if you don’t live near it.

  • It generates most of the oxygen we breath
  • It cleans the water we drink
  • Regulates our climate
  • Helps feed us
  • Global trade is dominated by sea transport
  • It’s the primary producer of moisture in the atmosphere, generating rain.

We must take care of our marine resources to ensure that we always have the benefits that the ocean provides us, both for present and future generations.  Some of these benefits are providing food to many people in different communities along our beautiful coastline and it creates work in the coastal communities. The oceans’ other functions include reducing the force of storms, assisting with waste reduction, it offers a habitat for a plethora of animals and plants and providing many attractions such as tourism, especially in the Western Cape.

This seemly an inexhaustible resource which covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface has been heavily impacted by human activity and threatens its sustainability. We are overfishing, polluting by the tones and we carelessly abuse and destroy life in the oceans.

What makes our South African marine environment unique and worth protecting?

We are fortunate enough to be nestled between 2 different ocean currents. That maintains our climate as we’ve come to know it. The warm Agulhas current is rich in ocean biodiversity but doesn’t contain large fish stocks, and the cold Benguela current supports large fisheries such as those focused on anchovy and sardine (the small pelagic) and the hake (demersal) stocks.

These currents, including the cold Southern Oceans’, are key drivers of South African climate and rainfall conditions. We often forget about the Southern Ocean and how it contributes to our weather conditions. South Africa’s scarcest resource is fresh water. Our rainfall patterns dictate most activities concerned with socioeconomics, as it is vital to defining natural habitats and ecosystems of different climatic zones with their different biodiversities, and agricultural and economic activities.

As addressed earlier, oceans, being the primary producer of moisture to the atmosphere that eventually produces rain over the country, therefore play a critical role in shaping all socio-economic activities in our land. Summing up, the destruction of our oceans doesn’t only threaten marine habitats and species but also our own health, economy, and security.

So what’s threatening our oceans?

According to the WWF the biggest threat to oceans includes:

  • Waste: anything not produced by mother nature like garbage and plastics. This includes balloons, shoes, glass bottles, packaging, and plastic bags. These man-made materials that when not disposed of properly decompose at a glacial pace and are often mistaken for food by marine animals. To make things worse they often come back to shore, where it pollutes beaches, coastal habitats and communities.
  • Untreated sewage flows – how is this even possible?
  • Illegal dumping often involves toxic chemicals.
  • Fertilizer runoff from farms and lawns is a huge problem for coastal areas as it creates more algae which cuts off the oxygen supply to marine animals.
  • Oil spills, because there’s more than one kind, many of which come from runoff from drains.

An example of an endangered species due to overfishing is the Galjoen. The Galjoen is the national fish of South Africa. It belongs to a family of fish that can only be found off our coastline.

South African Hope Spots

According to the Sustainable Seas Trust (SST), Hope Spots are special conservation areas that are critical to the health of the ocean. Networks of Hope Spots maintain biodiversity, provide a carbon sink, generate life-giving oxygen, preserve critical habitats and allow low-impact activities like ecotourism to thrive. What’s good for the ocean, is good for us.

A vast natural resource such as the ocean for us, as a developing country, The use of the ocean’s resources sustainably while considering the following:

  • The fishing industry is of great socio-economic importance in the Western Cape. It creates income for small-scale fishermen and provides food and income for subsistence fishing communities.
  • Larger fishing companies also fish in the surrounding waters of the Western Cape, which contributes to the local economy. The Western Cape also relies on the state of its pristine beaches and coastline to encourage and sustain our flourishing tourism industry.
  • We need to ensure that fishing doesn’t exploit fish stocks.
  • We need to make sure that our coastlines are free of pollution.
  • Find out which species of fish are okay to consume by checking the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) list.

What you and your family can do to ensure the health of our oceans:

Reduce your buying and consumption of plastics. The items often collected during beach clean-ups are made of plastic. Think reusable and recyclable shopping bags, water bottles and utensils.

Make informed seafood choices. Keep a copy of the sustainable seafood guide with you which indicate which species are green, red or orange. Green means you can buy these species legally, orange is that species are threatened and red meaning that these species are collapsed therefore the selling and or buying of such species is illegal.

Dispose of chemicals properly. Do not pour chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil or paint into the drain or toilets. Your municipality should have a household hazardous waste program to help guide you in the proper way to dispose of chemicals.

Think green detergents and household cleaners or make your own! These products are safer for the environment since what goes down the drain can end up in the ocean.

Find out the source of your food. Buying local, organic food reduces your carbon footprint, supports the local economy and reduces the number of pesticides and fertilisers that end up not just in your stomach, but as run-off in rivers and oceans, too.

Fill your yard with indigenous species. Reducing the amount of grass in your lawn by planting indigenous shrubs and flower beds will provide a better habitat for birds and other wildlife and require far less water and fertiliser, which can seep into the oceans.

Inquire about the practices of your beach-side holiday retreat. Before you stay in a hotel on the coast, ask staff what happens to their sewage and swimming pool water, and if they source their restaurant fish from sustainable sources.

Clean up after your beach visit. Take your trash with you and leave plants, birds and wildlife for all to enjoy. Beach clean-ups happen on the 1st Saturday of every month around Cape Town round 10am. They last about 90 minutes and help create awareness about the dangers of water pollution. Bags and gloves are provided for volunteers at the following Beach venues – how about that!

Blouberg Beachfront, Sunset Beach, Woodbridge Island, Muizenberg, Strand, Gordon’s Bay, Hout Bay, Glen Beach (Camps Bay)

On a lighter note

I’ll bet you didn’t know South Africa has a Marine big 5. We’re more familiar with the famous 5 land animals (the lion, rhino, elephant, leopard, and buffalo), but what about our marine big 5.

Our marine big 5 is:

  • the Cape fur seal,
  • the African penguin,
  • the dolphin,
  • the humpback whale, and – the great white shark

Let’s each do our best to reduce our impact on our oceans. Start small by:

  • Reducing plastic consumption.
  • Dining out? next time a simple question about the ethical sourcing of seafood.
  • Pick up after yourself in general but particularly at beach visits.