Protecting our marine life
October is National Marine Month, and it is the perfect time to share your commitment in protecting our oceans.
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), 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 is the best choice. These are the most sustainable choices from the healthiest and most well-managed fish populations, and farmed or fished in a way that does not harm the environment,
- Orange means think twice. There are reasons for concern about the fish on this list either because the species is depleted due to overfishing and cannot sustain current pressure or the fishing/farming method poses harm to the environment, and
- Red means do not buy. These species have extreme environmental concerns. Some species on the red list may be endangered, threatened or vulnerable. Some of these species are specially protected and are illegal to buy or sell in SA.
- 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:
- The warm Agulhas current is rich in ocean biodiversity, but doesn’t contain large fish stocks.
- 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.
Let's clean up our beaches this Marine Month
This Marine Month, use the opportunity to make a difference and take part in the Cape Town Beach Clean-up, an initiative that gets volunteers together every first Saturday of the month to clean up our beaches. By cleaning up our beaches we ensure that plastic, and other waste, doesn’t end up in our oceans, and it ensures that we, and our fellow citizens, can continue to enjoy our beaches.