South Africa's commitment to preserving and protecting the ocean

4 people jumping in the air
Image credit: Jared Paisley Some of the faces behind WILDOCEANS’ Ocean iMPAct campaign (R to L): Nicola Gerrard, the stunning Shailene Woodley, Me (Ruth Mthembu) and Campaign Lead Lauren Van Nijkerk.
Ruth Mthembu
by Ruth Mthembu
25 February 2020

As I sat down to start writing this blog, my town was experiencing load-shedding.

If you aren’t familiar with load-shedding, simply put, it’s when a town goes without electricity for a scheduled period – a measure of last resort to prevent the collapse of the power system in South Africa. Despite the load-shedding, there is a lot to celebrate about my country! It's one of the most diverse in the world, with regards to people, culture and… marine life.

Recently, marine protection has been high on the global priority list, with scientists sharing that 30 per cent ocean protection by 2030 is needed for the ocean to thrive. When focusing on South Africa, how does marine protection fare? 

In 2018, South Africa had only 0.4 per cent of national waters protected, whereas now five per cent of its ocean space is within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). WILDOCEANS, a programme of the WILDTRUST and an organisation I am proudly part of, is part of the movement pushing for the expansion of protection and highlighting the need to do so. I’m involved with a lot of campaign and advocacy work within marine conservation and I often wonder if South Africans are becoming complacent about the need for everyone to do their bit in protecting the environment.

A big believer in social justice, I understand that the protection of human beings and the environment cannot exist outside of each other. I often ask myself, is the human environment conducive for human beings to protect the natural environment i.e. our ocean? Simply put, no. 

The team led by Shailene Woodley
Image credit: Jared Paisley A group of passionate ocean-loving South Africans together with international actor Shailene Woodley during the filming of a video by the WILDOCEANS Ocean Impact campaign, promoting the need for ocean protection.

I reflected on this during a recent visit to Cape Town whilst filming with environmental advocate and actor, Shailene Woodley. The focus of the shoot was the WILDOCEANS’ MPA campaign ‘Ocean iMPAct’. The clip featured the voices of multiple people including divers, surfers, paddlers, fisherman, marine scientists, Shailene and myself – all profiling that there is to love about the ocean and highlighting why it needs to be preserved and protected..

The very people who appear in this clip are well-acquainted with the many problems South Africa faces, but that day we all came together, united for our ocean. I sat in bed that night, hopeful. Despite the hardships, I realised that a love for our ocean and a desire to protect it transcends borders, cultures and languages. Our ocean is as South African as we are, and we need to protect it as much as we depend on it. It was at that moment that I began to appreciate being a woman in this country, embracing the diversity I see in everything – in the people around me and the wild underwater spaces I’ve been able to explore. 

South Africa's commitment to preserving and protecting the ocean

Feeling strong and supportive of the commitments of our government to strive for 10 per cent marine protection by 2020 and 30 per cent by 2030. These steps are required for the ocean to keep giving us what we continue to take. Governments have a mammoth task to take care of the needs of the people, but every individual has the mammoth task of taking care of each other – and the environment we have been gifted.

It’s not an issue of ‘people versus nature’ because as people, we are part of nature. As we learn to protect each other, that protection must be reflected in the way we treat our environment. 

Long-term problems need long-term, strategic solutions. A lack of ocean protection has been a long-term problem for generations, just like poverty and unemployment. If we don’t prioritise ocean protection now, the negative long-term impact will be even harder to manage. I echo Shailene’s words: “I’m fighting for our oceans because if we don’t no one will and that’s the end of the story. Every single living creature on earth would not survive without a healthy, functioning ocean.” 

Over and above that we cannot survive without each other. We need to understand the South African climate before understanding climate change. The current state of the ocean reflects humanity, but we can change that. I believe South Africa is diverse in its problems, but more diverse in its victories. Onwards and upwards for Love10x20 and Love30x30.

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