Better care for our oceans

Dr Jenna Jambeck has first hand experience in marine refuse having sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.

With 350 kilograms of plastic being dumped in the ocean every second, it is projected that there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

This according to Tony Ribbink, director of Sustainable Seas Trust.

“Pollution is killing millions of marine animals and seabirds each year, damaging sensitive ecosystems, affecting environmental and human health. Aside from lost opportunities, the cost to Africa runs into billions annually,” he said.

Mr Ribbink was part of a panel of speakers at the Two Oceans Aquarium last week. He said South Africa has some fantastic policies but people do not know about them and this is where the African Marine Waste Network comes in. Initiated by the Sustainable Seas Trust, they hosted the inaugural African Marine Waste Conference in Port Elizabeth from July 9 to 13. The network is the first dedicated approach to address marine waste at a pan-African level.

“Africa is data poor on the matter of marine waste on both sea and land, and limited research has been done so far meaning that management and development of informed strategies is being impeded,” said Mr Ribbink.

Another speaker was Captain Ravi Naicker of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).

Mr Naicker said many people assume that waste that lands up on our coastline comes from some of the vessels travelling through our oceans.

This is not the case. He explained that a ship of 400 tonnes and above must keep a log of their garbage record – what type and amount is incinerated and what lands at port. Mr Naicker said Samsa does port state inspections.

If there is no log they ask questions. It is part of MARPOL (marine pollution) International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships international treaty annexe 5.

Dr Jenna Jambeck also attended the conference and panel discussion at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Her topic was, Plastic pollution in our oceans: Local and global solutions. She said they estimate that eight million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean from land each year.

Dr Jambeck is an associate professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. She also has first hand experience in marine refuse as she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 2014 with 13 other women in expedition to sample land and open ocean plastic and encourage women to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.

This trip translated into extensive outreach on this issue around the world at speaking events.

Dr Jambeck is also an expert on plastic waste and co-developed the mobile app Marine Debris Tracker, a tool that facilitates a growing global citizen science initiative. Six years later this app has documented the location of over one million litter and marine debris items removed from the environment throughout the world.

Dr Jambeck said we have the luxury of making choices, to use less bottled water, rethink plastic bags and picnic materials, to choose products with less plastic packaging and to use reusable straws.

Ebrahim Mohamed of the City of Cape Town’s Solid Waste department said they have seen great strides in waste separation. He finds that much of the plastic waste is being exported, by ship, to China.

John Duncan of WWF, based in Newlands, said we do not want a world filled with plastic. “We are all part of the problem but we are also part of the answers,” said Mr Duncan.