Protecting our oceans

Pollutants that go into our drains end up in the ocean.

The recent Oscar win for best documentary film by My Octopus Teacher has laid the foundation for a better connection between people and the sea, says Dr Alison Kock, a marine biologist with SANParks.

Dr Kock, who is based at the Cape Research Centre in Tokai, gave a webinar last week on “Managing South Africa’s Marine Protected Areas”.

Dr Kock is also the co-founder of the Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Education Centre, based in Kalk Bay. She is well known for her work on shark conservation.

Dr Kock shared stories of marine creatures and ecosystems in South Africa’s 42 Marine Protected Areas (MPA), covering 5.4% of the country’s ocean space. She also shared the threats faced by the Marine Big Five: whale, shark, seal, penguin and dolphin.

Table Mountain MPA was proclaimed in 2004 and covers almost 1 000km of coastline. “It is also home to where My Octopus Teacher was filmed, at Miller’s Point in Simon’s Town. This documentary has helped bridge the disconnect between the sea and people,” said Dr Kock.

She said oceans worldwide were seeing declines in health and resources caused by increasing environmental pressures. Among them are unsustainable fishing, climate change, habitat destruction, invasive species, loss of top predators and pollution.

Dr Kock’s talk coincides with the City’s Know Your Coast 2020 report. Released in April by the City of Cape Town, it covers water quality along Cape Town’s 307 km of coastline from December 1, 2019 to November 30, 2020.

The report covers the quality of 2 400 bacterial sample tests taken at 99 recreational nodes along the Atlantic and False Bay coastlines as determined by applying the National Water Quality Guidelines.

On the Atlantic Ocean side, swimmers, divers and surfers should avoid Hout Bay Beach, Bakoven bungalows and Camps Bay tidal pool. On the False Bay coastline, water quality has regressed into the poor category at Boulders Beach, Clovelly and Mnandi Beach west and east.

Areas that reported chronic coastal water quality problems in 2019, and remained as such last year, include Lagoon Beach, Three Anchor Bay, central False Bay and Macassar to Gordon’s Bay.

When compared with 2019, the water quality at seven locations improved in 2020: at Small Bay, Maiden’s Cove (both tidal pools) and beaches at Llandudno, Scarborough, Beta and Camps Bay.

The 2020 report indicates that overall, “the trend and pattern remains constant where stormwater outlets and river mouths remain significant sources of pollution. Therefore sewer blockages and overflows, illegal discharges, and general urban run-off and waste disposal discharged via the city’s stormwater system and rivers have a significant impact on our coastal environment and coastal water quality”.

Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said beaches that did not have stormwater outlets or were far away from river mouths usually had ’’good’’ or ’’excellent’’ water quality ratings.

Ms Nieuwoudt said that in 2020 the City’s the water and sanitation department had cleared about 122 000 sewer blockages across Cape Town. Most of those, around 75%, were caused by people who were using the sewers to illegally dump rubbish, she said.

“What goes into the drains ends up in the ocean,” she said. ”The City spent about R350 million on the clearing of these blockages that could have been avoided.“

In her talk, Dr Kock emphasised the importance of being mindful of what goes into drains and where possible to use eco-friendly products.

“All drains in our homes lead to our rivers or oceans, so cosmetics and cleaning agents, which contain harsh chemicals, also end up there,” she said.

The Know Your Coast report for 2020 is also available on the City’s website.

Dr Alison Kock is also the co-founder of the Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Education Centre, based in Kalk Bay.
The City’s Know Your Coast 2020 report, released in April, covers water quality along Cape Town’s 307 km of coastline from December 1, 2019 to November 30.
All drains in our homes lead to our rivers or oceans, so cosmetics and cleaning agents, which contain harsh chemicals, also end up there.