Good and bad news for our oceans

Guest speaker Trevor Manuel, who cut the ribbon at the opening of the Two Oceans Aquarium in November 1995.

Two Oceans Aquarium CEO Michael Farquhar, of Zeekoevlei, said the good news is that there has been a groundswell of support for initiatives including the foundation of 22 Marine Protected Areas, the SASSI campaign (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) and the shark spotter project.

The bad news is that 43 percent of South Africa’s fish reserves are over exploited.

Mr Farquhar was speaking at the launch of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) South Africa’s Oceans Facts and Futures report.

Held at the Two Oceans Aquarium, it coincided with South Africa National Marine Week, from October 10 to 14.

Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-SA, who lives in Tokai, said the report shows that we need to improve the management of our existing resources.

He said the report collates research findings from across multiple sectors. “It’s a snapshot of the state of our oceans and also highlights both the socio-economic value of the goods and services provided by the ocean and key ecological trends and indicators,” explained Dr Du Plessis.

The oceans cover about two-thirds of the surface of the earth, and are the very foundations of life. They generate most of the oxygen we breathe, absorb a large share of carbon dioxide emissions, provide food and nutrients, regulate climate, and are important economically for countries that rely on tourism, fishing and other marine resources for income, and serve as the backbone of international trade. Unfortunately, human pressures, including overexploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing, marine pollution, habitat destruction, alien species, climate change and ocean acidification are taking a significant toll on the world’s oceans and seas.

The guest speaker was Trevor Manuel who had cut the ribbon at the opening of the aquarium in 1995. He stressed the importance of ensuring that our oceans become a bigger part of the curriculum. Theressa Frantz, head of WWF’s environment programme, sang a different tune, one of urgency by challenging our current generation. She said South Africa’s rich and productive coastal waters support thousands of jobs and contribute R5.8billion to the national economy each year, estimated to be 35 percent of our gross domestic product. Against a backdrop of thick-lipped grumpy looking fish, shoals of silvery guppies, rays and one turtle, Ms Frantz, from Fairways, said overexploitation of our marine resources is not only impacting livelihoods and income but also a loss of potential food protein.

She said that while African Black Oystercatcher numbers are increasing, trends show decreasing numbers of abalone, West Coast rock lobster and African Penguins. Another threat is illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing which has decimated many of the once abundant inshore fish stocks. Mr Manuel spoke of COP 17 which took place in Johannesburg last month. “Strike one for South Africa for not ratifying the importance of our oceans to our legislation,” he said.

As a country with ports and harbours he said fishing boats that ply our oceans need to be inspected. “Last year, roughly one of every six fish sold around the world was caught illegally. That number is now poised to drop precipitously, thanks to the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) of 2009, the world’s first international treaty designed specifically to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” said Mr Manuel. However, of the 25 countries needed to adopt the PSMA, only 14 countries voted, and South Africa was not one of them. Mr Manuel said under the PSMA, parties are obliged to ensure that any fishing vessel that comes to a port, even for refuelling, must announce that it is doing so and submit to an inspection of its log book, licences, fishing gear and, to be sure, its actual cargo.

Port state authorities agree to share information on violations, thus making it harder for rogue fishermen to shift their practices elsewhere. “This is right. We should be able to go online and see what cargo a ship carries but many ships refuse to have a transponder to track them,” says Mr Manuel.

Ms Frantz said other threats are the mislabelling of seafood, no agreed fishery management plan and the effect of climate change on our oceans which include changes in sea temperature, shifts in the distribution of important commercial fish stocks and increased coastal erosion due to the increased frequency and severity of storms. A looming threat is bulk seabed mining of phosphate minerals for use as fertiliser and the unchecked expansion of fossil fuel exploration.

Mr Manuel spoke of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Founded in 1982 in response to humankinds exploitation of the sea for centuries, the international community created a comprehensive framework for legal governance of the seas which, over time, has evolved into a powerful body of law. However, it cannot provide an answer to every problem that arises.

The Safeguard our Seabed Coalition, an initiative led by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), based in Observatory, in partnership with WWF-SA, is now calling for a moratorium on marine phosphate mining in South Africa. Spokesperson for the coalition, Saul Roux, says that prospecting rights granted to three companies over the past five years are in an area that overlaps with 77 percent of the offshore hake trawl footprint and one of the primary fishing grounds of the small pelagic fishery. Findings also show that job generation of bulk marine sediment mining is marginal in contrast with the existing direct employment of 27 000 jobs created in the fishery sector and indirect employment of around 100 000 jobs created in industries linked to the sector. “We’re concerned about the use of destructive technologies to excavate the seabed and its potential environmental impact as well as the proposed scale and location of the mining activity,” he says. BLOB Download the full report here: wwf.org.za/oceansfutures