Now is time to take ac­tion against plas­tic pol­lu­tion killing world’s oceans

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT - ED­WARD RO­MAN

OUR oceans are a mess. It is es­ti­mated that there is now more than150 mil­lion tonnes of plas­tic in the world’s oceans. About

12.2 mil­lion tonnes en­ters an­nu­ally.

This plas­tic is in­gested by dozens of species of marine mam­mals and birds, and de­grades vi­tal habi­tats. Mil­lions of birds, sea mam­mals and tur­tles die each year from eat­ing and get­ting tan­gled in plas­tic waste.

In many re­gions, one in three fish caught con­tains pieces of plas­tic, while 51 species of African fish are near­ing ex­tinc­tion. It is one of the great en­vi­ron­men­tal scourges of our time.

Coun­ter­ing the im­mense chal­lenges of ocean pol­lu­tion will take big bold in­ter­na­tional ac­tions from gov­ern­ments and small per­sonal ac­tions from cit­i­zens. Both need to hap­pen, and quickly.

Next week, Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa will lead South Africa’s del­e­ga­tion to the Com­mon­wealth Sum­mit in Lon­don. He will join Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and 52 other heads of gov­ern­ment and lead­ers of the Com­mon­wealth na­tions.

A ma­jor pri­or­ity will be deep­en­ing their col­lec­tive com­mit­ment to sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of our oceans.

Closer to home, a coali­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal and com­mu­nity ac­tivists, led by UN Oceans

Pa­tron Lewis Pugh will gather to col­lect rub­bish on Khayelit­sha’s Mon­wabisi beach to­day. We will seek to demon­strate our com­mit­ment – as com­mu­nity mem­bers, cit­i­zens and ad­vo­cates – to tack­ling the threat that ocean pol­lu­tion poses to all who live by, en­joy, are fed by and make a liv­ing from the sea.

Capeto­ni­ans, like the Bri­tish, are never far from the ocean.

South Africa’s 3 000km coast­line is some of the most im­por­tant (and beau­ti­ful) any­where in the world. Al­ready a ma­jor source of jobs, food and en­joy­ment Oper­a­tion Phak­isa rightly iden­ti­fies your oceans’ huge po­ten­tial for fu­ture eco­nomic growth, em­ploy­ment, en­ergy and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

But in South Africa and across the globe there is a sharp­ened aware­ness that to re­lease the po­ten­tial we must treat this vi­tal as­set with greater re­spect. Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment must be sus­tain­able.

This is now for­mally recog­nised by the UN in Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goal 14.1 – to pre­vent and sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce marine pol­lu­tion.

How to ap­proach the prob­lem? Plas­tic shop­ping bags do not re­spect na­tional bound­aries. This is a thor­oughly in­ter­na­tional chal­lenge that needs in­ter­na­tional so­lu­tions. Many or­gan­i­sa­tions are ac­cel­er­at­ing their ef­forts, in­clud­ing the UN, G7 and G20 and re­gional ini­tia­tives such as the In­dian Oceans Rim As­so­ci­a­tion (which South Africa chairs).

It is why the Com­mon­wealth – 46 of its 53 mem­bers are ocean states – has placed oceans sus­tain­abil­ity high on its agenda. The Sum­mit’s “Blue Char­ter” will seek to fa­cil­i­tate greater co-oper­a­tion be­tween mem­bers in ad­vanc­ing ex­ist­ing and new ocean-re­lated com­mit­ments and fur­ther­ing sus­tain­able blue eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The Sum­mit looks to es­tab­lish a Com­mon­wealth Clean Oceans Al­liance – a group of like-minded coun­tries which will work to­gether to achieve the UN goals by re­duc­ing the amount of plas­tic used in pro­duc­ing goods and ser­vices, and im­prov­ing the way in which plas­tic waste is man­aged.

They will also com­mit to tak­ing ac­tion to­wards ban­ning mi­crobeads in cos­metic prod­ucts and sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing the preva­lence of sin­gle-plas­tic car­rier bags by 2021. Pol­icy com­mit­ments of this kind can make big dif­fer­ences; a UK de­ci­sion to place a 5 pence levy on plas­tic shop­ping bags in 2015 has led to 9 bil­lion fewer of them. Kenya has pur­sued an out­right ban.

The ma­jor­ity of waste in the sea orig­i­nates from the land. Africa is the se­cond most lit­tered con­ti­nent on the planet – it is es­ti­mated that about 80% of the waste gen­er­ated in mu­nic­i­pal ar­eas en­ters the seas, through rivers and the con­ti­nent’s 30 500km coast­line.

Sin­gle-use plas­tics – bot­tles, straws, forks, etc – to­gether with rope and net­ting, are the most abun­dant type of marine lit­ter. As in­di­vid­u­als we are the ul­ti­mate con­sumers of plas­tics. Many of the prod­ucts we use, of­ten only for a mo­ment, can linger in the oceans for cen­turies; a wa­ter bot­tle can take 450 years to de­grade in the sea.

Capeto­ni­ans have rethought how they use wa­ter, changed their be­hav­iour and cut over­all con­sump­tion in half. Let us all re­think how we use plas­tic, par­tic­u­larly sin­gle-use items. By chang­ing our be­hav­iour to be smarter, leaner plas­tic con­sumers, choos­ing al­ter­na­tives, dis­pos­ing of waste in­tel­li­gently, and in­flu­enc­ing oth­ers to do like­wise we can make a tan­gi­ble con­tri­bu­tion to en­sure the oceans we cher­ish can be sus­tained.

At our beach clean in Mon­wabisi to­day we will be joined by over 100 young surfers from Khayelit­sha who have passed through the

Waves For Change surf-ther­apy pro­grammes. Lo­cal boys and girls who are learn­ing to love the sea as a place of heal­ing, en­joy­ment and po­ten­tial fu­ture liveli­hood. We – gov­ern­ments, busi­nesses or cit­i­zens – can’t leave their gen­er­a­tion to clean up our mess.

Ro­man is the Bri­tish Con­sul Gen­eral in Cape Town.

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