World Oceans Day: Awareness and education key to save SA’s oceans

Oceans are under serious threat brought on by factors such as plastic pollution, overfishing and poaching that people have the power to change.

Today is World Oceans Day. The day aims to highlight how oceans support all life on earth. The vital role played by oceans is threatened by climate change, pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction, but we can still act now to protect our marine heritage.

Ocean health is critical to mitigating climate change, growing economies, and sustaining life on the planet. Advocates for ocean conservation agree that raising awareness that everyday decisions can impact marine life and educating people about how they can make a difference, are key factors to help save our oceans.

Oceans produce 70% of the Earth’s oxygenabsorb 25% of carbon dioxide emissions, and capture 90% of the excess heat that those emissions generate. They drive our planet’s weather systems, feed over a billion people, and are a major tourist attraction.

In South Africa, coastal goods and services are estimated to contribute 35% to our gross domestic product (GDP).

A view from Tsitsikama. Photo: Supplied.

While South Africa’s terrestrial wildlife is world-famous, the country’s marine life deserves just as much credit: South Africa is home to the ocean’s own Big Five in the southern right whale, great white shark, Cape fur seal, bottlenose dolphin, and African penguin.

South Africa enjoys one of the longest coastlines on the continent, bordering two oceans, with habitats ranging from coral reefs to kelp forests. These diverse and unique habitats are, in turn, home to diverse and unique marine life. About 33% of the country’s marine species are endemic, meaning that they cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Peter Knights, Wild Africa Fund CEO, says this natural heritage is under serious threat.

“Of the 77 species of fish whose numbers are known, 26 are considered depleted or heavily depleted. Having lost 97% of its population the African penguin is down to just 10 000 breeding pairs and could be extinct by 2035 if we do not change course. The great white shark, a globally vulnerable species, used to be an iconic tourist attraction for tourists to SA, yet today they’re rarely sighted.”

Great white sharks are rarely sighted as their numbers dwindle. Photo: Supplied.

Given both the importance of oceans to all life and the gravity of the threats they face, it’s clear that widespread action is needed. Going far beyond scientists and politicians, protecting our oceans is everybody’s business. Engaging the wider public in the task at hand will take education, awareness and advocacy – and some are already leading the way.

Zandi Ndhlovu, ‘The Black Mermaid’, is one such individual. As South Africa’s first black female freediving instructor, she advocates for Africa’s oceans, speaking regularly on the heritage we have to protect, the threats our marine life faces and issues of ocean access.

Her book entitled ‘Zandi’s song’ brings awareness to these themes, unpacking critical environmental lessons. Her global engagements, including appearing on the Kelly Clarkson Show, are amplifying awareness, and creating a movement for change – particularly among younger generations.

“How do we bring about the next generation of ocean guardians?” she prompts. “One, we change the narrative and two, we create access to this incredible ocean space. I run the Black Mermaid Foundation where we take kids out on ocean excursions, focusing on kids from black and brown communities. Why? Because how do you care for something you’ve never seen before?”

Zandi Ndlovu (The Black Mermaid) is passionate about ocean conservation. Photo: Supplied.

Specifically, Zandi is speaking out about the issue of ocean plastic and calling on all to make conscious consumer choices.

“Plastic pollution is a massive problem in our oceans, I could speak endlessly about it. But for me, it starts with intentionality. We know we need to create change, we know that there’s no thriving humanity without thriving oceans, and so how do we become more intentional with our consumption?”

Watch: Zandi’s African Penguin Day appeal

The Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town has been a champion for ocean awareness for decades; granting access to an undersea world otherwise not accessible to many, and with a focus on engaging schools, reaching thousands of young people each year.

Their Turtle Conservation Centre works in rescue, rehabilitation, release and research, supporting the conservation of endangered turtle species while their Marine Wildlife Management Programme facilitates the peaceful coexistence of humans and marine wildlife along Cape Town’s shores.

“Education is critical to what we do, as we believe that ocean awareness will lead to a future grounded in effective behaviour change. As people develop their knowledge about the value of a healthy ocean, they can start to make decisions that will contribute to best practices for ocean health,” says Heather Wares, Communications Manager at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Watch: Penguin conservation at the Two Oceans Aquarium

Wild Africa Fund works with Zandi, Two Oceans Aquarium and many other ambassadors and organisations to highlight conservation challenges, promote solutions and inspire public support and political will to protect Africa’s wildlife and wild spaces.

Their campaigns span social media, national TV broadcasters and leading streaming services, radio stations, news media and billboards across the continent.

African penguin numbers are down to 10 000 breeding pairs. Photo: Matthieu Joannon.

Working in South Africa as well as countries like Nigeria and Namibia, they are turning up the volume on ocean conservation themes, through initiatives such as Dr Mark’s Animal Show, public service announcements with well-known celebrities, their Music for Wildlife concert series and a mini-documentary series called Unsung Heroes.

Specifically, Wild Africa Fund is calling attention to the plight of turtles, fish, dolphins, sharks and penguins and tackling issues like plastic pollution, overfishing and poaching.

“Our oceans are our life support system and people, and wildlife can only survive and thrive together. On World Oceans Day we should commit to doing what we can to cut our carbon footprint, reduce plastic use, ensure litter is disposed of properly and make sustainable seafood choices,” says Knights.



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