World Oceans Day is a global celebration providing an opportunity to honour, protect and conserve the world’s oceans – Oceanic Society

This year’s theme for World Ocean Day will be The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods and with hundreds of events planned across the globe, celebrations will also highlight the damage humanity have already inflicted on the oceans. It is especially relevant for Africa as the oceans surrounding the continent are used by many countries as a dumping ground for different types of waste and illegal fishing enterprises.

Land-based waste entering the ocean is a significant problem in Africa with waste mismanagement associated with proper lack of infrastructure in many countries on the continent. Also, with Africa showing the highest population growth rate in the world, particularly the coastal areas are under severe threat.

Eleven years ago, it was already estimated that Africa’s mismanaged waste amounted to 4.4 million metric tonnes annually. But a positive shift is occurring and many African countries are developing new approaches to waste management and consolidation.

During the past decade, scientists had focused on the amount and types of waste entering the marine environment from multiple global but few reports about the scale of waste entering the coastal and oceanic waters around Africa exist. To address this, existing waste mismanagement information was collated and African marine debris is now considered high on the global oceanic agenda.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its 2020 report named the five countries responsible for the biggest marine waste across the world, with much ending up around the shores of Africa. As usual, China leads the list of perpetrators, with Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam responsible for more than 50% of plastic waste flowing into the oceans each year.

One specific incidence comes to mind. In 1988, Italian businessmen illegally dumped more than 2000 drums, sacks and containers filled with hazardous waste in the ocean surrounding a small fishing village in southern Nigeria. It was however, not the only and last occurrence as African oceans are considered to be global dumping grounds for not only huge amounts of plastic and other toxic waste materials, but with the advent of technology, redundant computers and other hi-tech parts had now joined the list.

Realising the crucial role the oceans play in peoples’ lives, the first World Oceans Day was unofficially celebrated during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. But the United Nations came on board in 2008, passing a resolution to observe this international day across the world.

World Oceans Day in South Africa (SA) would highlight the impact of oceans on our country and the various ways in which it contributes to the livelihood and incomes of its many peoples. As part of June’s celebration in SA as National Environment Month, this day would also serve to educate South Africans on existing challenges in dealing with marine pollution, climate change, essential ecosystems, sustainable livelihoods and safe recreation.

What can YOU do on 8 June?

  • Many online events and film screenings would be available to educate and inform on Otherwise organise a beach clean-up, skip eating seafood for a day as overfishing, (China in African waters again), is now considered to be responsible for more than 31% of depleted fish stocks across the world. Excellent educational documentaries to watch include Mission Blue, The Blue Planet, Sharkwater, The Cove, Disneynature: Oceans and A Plastic Ocean.
  • Stop using single-use plastics such as disposable water bottles, cups, plates and eating utensils, bags and drinking straws.
  • Breathe deep, appreciate the ocean – take time today to appreciate your connection to the ocean and to consider the many benefits it provides.