Protecting our marine life

A healthy ocean is very important to all life on earth. Billions of people depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and as a source of food.  We depend on the oceans for clean air and most of the oxygen we breathe. You do not need to live next to the ocean to benefit from it.

More than 70% of the earth is covered by oceans. This might seem like an inexhaustible resource but unfortunately human impact on the oceans are threatening their sustainability.  Humans have overfished, polluted and carelessly abused and destroyed life in the oceans.

Destroying our oceans doesn’t only threaten marine habitats and species but also our own health, economy and security.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 80% of pollution in the ocean comes from land based activities. The plastic items we use and the sewage we create ends up in our oceans and harm the delicate ecosystems that lives in our waters.

Together, we need to create public awareness of the state of our oceans and coastal environments in order to promote sustainable use and conservation for the benefit of present and future generations.

What is threatening our oceans?

According to the WWF the biggest threat to oceans includes:

  • Garbage and plastic. This includes plastic bags, balloons, glass bottles, shoes and packaging material that are not disposed of properly. Plastic litter, which decomposes very slowly, is often mistaken for food by marine animals. This litter can also come back to shore, where it pollutes beaches and other coastal habitats.
  • Untreated sewage flows.
  • Toxic chemicals from illegal dumping.
  • Fertilizer runoff from farms and lawns is a huge problem for coastal areas as it creates more algae which cut off the oxygen supply to marine animals.
  • Oil spills, many of which come from run off from drains.

What we can do to ensure the health of our oceans:

  • Reduce our plastic consumption. The most frequently collected items during beach clean-ups are made of plastic. Rather purchase reusable shopping bags, water bottles and utensils, which also save you money in the long term.
  • Make informed seafood choices. Keep a copy of the sustainable seafood guide with you. This guide indicates which species are green, orange or red according to their vulnerability.
    • Green means you can buy these species legally,
    • Orange means that the  species is vulnerable or threatened, and
    • Red means that these species numbers have collapsed and it’s therefore illegal to buy, sell and consume that species.
  • Get rid of chemicals correctly. Never pour chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil or paint into the drain or toilets. Check with your municipality's household hazardous waste programme to properly dispose or recycle chemicals and keep them out of rivers and oceans.
  • Choose environmentally friendly detergents and household cleaners or make your own. Besides being better for your own health, these products are safer for the environment since what goes down the drain can end up in our oceans.
  • Find out about the practices of your beachside 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.
  • Find out the source of your food. Buying local, organic food reduces your carbon footprint, supports the local economy and reduces the amount of pesticides and fertilisers that end up, not only in your stomach, but as run-off in rivers and oceans, too.
  • Plant indigenous plant species in your garden. Reducing the amount of grass for your lawn by planting indigenous shrubs and flower beds will provide a better habitat for birds and other wildlife and will require far less water and fertiliser, which can seep into the oceans.
  • Keep your beach visit clean. When visiting the beach, stay off fragile sand dunes, take your trash with you and don't disturb or remove plants, birds and wildlife so that others can enjoy these treasures too.

Oceans are also the primary producer of moisture in the atmosphere which in turn produces, plays a critical role in shaping the socio-economic activities in South Africa and the Western Cape agriculture sector in particular.

Why should we care about our oceans?

Oceans play an important role in our existence on this planet:

  • generates most of the oxygen we breathe,
  • helps feed us,
  • regulates our climate,
  • is the primary producer of moisture to the atmosphere, which leads to rain,
  • cleans the water we drink, and
  • global trade is dominated by sea transport.

How can we optimise these opportunities?

The oceans are a vast natural resource and as a developing country, we need to make 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.

Facts about our ocean

South Africa is nestled between 2 different ocean currents:

  1. The warm Agulhas current is rich in ocean biodiversity, but doesn’t contain large fish stocks.
  2. 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, in addition to the cold southern oceans, are key drivers of South African climate and rainfall conditions.

South Africa’s marine big 5

Our big 5 land animals (the lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and buffalo) are well known, but do you know which animals are part of our marine big five?

The marine big 5 is:

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

The South African National Fish

The galjoen is the national fish of South Africa. It belongs to a family of fish that can only be found off our coastline. It is currently endangered due to overfishing.

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 habitat and allow low-impact activities like ecotourism to thrive. They’re good for the ocean, which means they’re good for us. 

Read more about why South Africa’s Hope Spots are so unique.


World Oceans Day, 8 June 2018 

World Oceans Day is commemorated on 8 June every year and this year's theme is 'Preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean'.

Plastic trash is a serious problem and it is killing our ocean and all the animals that live in it. Together we can make a difference and be part of the solution.

On the first Saturday of every month Clean C, an initiative that gets volunteers to clean up our beaches hosts beach clean ups on beaches across Cape Town. For upcoming events you can visit their website. 

On World Oceans Day, people around the world celebrate and honour the ocean, which connects us all. Find out what people  are doing to celebrate World Oceans  and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


How to care for the ocean

The content on this page was last updated on 5 June 2018