South Africa Celebrates World Oceans Day

08 June 2016


Today, 08 June 2016, South Africa marks the annual celebration of World Oceans Day (WOD). This day is aimed at appreciating, protecting, restoring and honouring ecosystem services and resources provided by our oceans.

South Africa has a jurisdiction over one of the largest exclusive economic zones in the world, as it is uniquely surrounded by three ocean spaces (the Atlantic, Indian and Southern Oceans) offering a resource rich and biologically diverse environment.

“Our oceans represent a significant asset for current and future generations. The oceans provide direct socio-economic benefits through extractive industries, such as oil and gas, fishing, aquaculture and less obvious benefits through the provisioning of ecosystem services such as climate regulation, carbon storage and waste absorption. Furthermore, our oceans and coastal areas support a growing tourism industry as many citizens and international visitors flock to our shores to engage in recreational activities such as swimming, diving, whale-watching,” said Minister Edna Molewa.

Globally our oceans represent 99% of the living space on planet Earth by volume and absorbs up to about 30% of carbon emissions thereby buffering the impacts of global warming.

Recent studies have described the direct economic contribution of existing ocean activities to South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product in 2010, at approximately less than 4.5%. Given the relative size of South Africa’s ocean space, potential exists to increase the ocean contribution to the GDP. However, this will require a balanced, co-ordinated and sustained effort across key economic sectors that rely on the existence of our living and non-living ocean resources.

In order to realise the full socio-economic potential of ocean resources, it is important to strengthen management efforts and control negative human impacts of these ocean resources. The United Nations has identified pollution, particularly pollution originating from land, as a one of the “big stressors” to the health and integrity on marine ecosystems. Globally, it is estimated that roughly 80% of all marine pollution stems from activities carried out on land. South Africa participates in the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Environment from Land-based Activities (UNEP GPA), which has identified litter as one of the key sources of pollution in the ocean environment. Globally and locally, plastic and synthetic materials are the most common types of marine litter and cause the most problems for marine animals and birds. At least 267 different species are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of marine debris including seabirds, turtles, seals, sea lions, whales and fish. The effect of coastal littering and dumping is compounded by vectors such as rivers and storm drains discharging litter from inland urban areas.

Estimates suggesting that there are currently over 13,000 pieces of plastic litter floating on every square kilometre of ocean have been reported by UNEP in 2005. South Africa is not immune to the problem and the effects posed by marine litter. The presence of marine litter, in particular plastic items, is a common sight along recreational beaches and estuaries, especially in urban areas. During the 2015 International Coastal Clean-up Day in East London, a total of 16 141 volunteers collected over 109 000 litter items over just 77 kilometres of coastline. Although more people are joining hands each year to carry out coastal clean-up activities, it is clear that the amount of litter reaching the coastline and ocean environment is not declining. There is a need to amplify awareness raising of the problem.

The presence of plastics in the ocean threatens ocean health in several ways. Macro-plastics causes injury and death to marine animals and seabirds. As plastics break down into smaller fragments over time, it can be ingested by shellfish and other wildlife or accumulate in marine sediment. It has the potential to spread throughout the food web as animals consume each other. Some research has shown that the presence of plastics can affect both the number and type of marine organisms that inhabit a particular area. Plastics are capable of absorbing and accumulating toxic compounds present in the water, which can be transferred to living organisms once ingested.

An average of about 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans per year. At this rate, it is likely that over 250 million tons of plastic will be in the oceans within the next 10 years.

“The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has stated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. It is therefore fitting and vital that celebrations such as World Oceans Day be utilised to raise more awareness about the problem of plastic litter and to encourage the public to make a practical contribution by participating in a clean-up campaign,” Minister Molewa said.

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