The significance of ocean life across Africa means very little to many people here as they enjoy vacations on ocean-side beaches like Muizernberg beach in Cape Town, shown in the photo. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo | IDN-INPS - Photo: 2017

Oceans in Crisis Around Africa

By Jeffrey Moyo

HARARE (IDN) – As soon as dusk falls, Petina Dube emerges from her house balancing a sack full of garbage which has been lying uncollected in her yard amid reports that the municipal garbage collectors have no fuel to carry out their job across many residential areas in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

At the age of 43, Dube, a resident of Warren Park high density suburb in Harare, apparently does not care where the garbage will go after she dumps it. “I am honestly not worried about where this garbage will end up; I will just dump it by a stream not far from here,” says Dube.

But  for many environmental experts like Happson Chikova, who holds a degree in environmental studies from Zimbabwe’s Midlands State University, waste dumped anywhere eventually ends up in oceans and this spells bad news for marine life.

“What people don’t know as they dump their waste at undesignated points is that the garbage won’t remain where they leave it, but it is washed away in rains, carried down along streams, along rivers, across borders and into the oceans, and this will happen over and over for as long as people choose to dump their garbage anywhere,” Chikova told IDN. “The end result is that ocean life will be threatened.”

Chikova noted that the growing threat to ocean life in Africa falls under Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14), drawn up by the United Nations “to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

The high-level United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 is taking place in New York from 5 to 9 June with the aim of being the “game changer that will reverse the decline in the health of our ocean for people, planet and prosperity”.

However, for many Africans like Fauzia Sinorita living off the Beira coast in Mozambique, whether or not their activities impact on the sea means very little.

“The sea supplies our food; we fish in it. It is also our transport route as we move to areas nearby, but we also use it as our dumping ground,” Sinorita told IDN.

As many Africans like Sinorita pounce on ocean habitats, experts here see life under oceans fading fast. “Life in oceans is fast disappearing as marine habitats and species – many of which have only recently been discovered – are threatened,” Jan Reuben, a South African-based scientist, told IDN.

As a result, according to the International Ocean Institute – Southern Africa (IOI-SA) which is based in Cape Town, South Africa, there is a growing need within the African region for awareness and training in the various disciplines associated with ocean governance in order to contribute to building a sustainable core of experts on the continent.

IOI-SA functions as the African regional training centre of the International Ocean Institute (IOI) which aims to educate mid-career professionals, educators, researchers and civil society members that have coastal and marine related responsibilities, functions or interests.

South Africa has a spectacular 3000 km coastline where the cold, nutrient-rich Atlantic meets the sub-tropical Indian Ocean, and nearby is the Southern Ocean, home to many whale species, making Southern Africa’s economic giant score very high in the marine biodiversity stakes.

And thanks to a concerted effort since 2003, South Africa has declared nearly 20 percent of its coastline protected by official marine reserves – close to the figure recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, the country’s coastline is rife with illegal fishing activities and, like many other African countries, South Africa also has to contend with sub-standard ships and poor shipping practices that have led to massive marine pollution and damage, according to Musitheli Khumalo, an environmental activist based at Muizernberg beach in Cape Town.

Armando Chikanda is a 63-year-old retired sea captain who lives on the Beira coast in Mozambique. “The Indian Ocean is a highway through which we ship goods here in Mozambique, but honestly, the traffic of ships which pass here daily leaves oil spills, ship groundings, anchor damage, and the dumping of rubbish, oily waste, which is endangering marine habitats not only here, but all over the world,” he told IDN.

 “We have witnessed raw sewage, garbage, pesticides, industrial chemicals, plastics, all these pollutants on land make their way into the ocean, and this pollution is injuring the whole oceanic food chain, even humans,” Chikanda added.

With the UN Oceans Conference taking place in New York, it remains to be seen whether or not there will be any paradigm shift regarding the use of oceans, but many African environmental activists like Namibia’s Sarita Imbeni feel the conference may have come late because too much harm has already been done to the oceans.

“On our side here in Namibia, without mentioning what is already happening in other African countries closer to oceans, we have seen the ocean being overfished, the ocean being ruthlessly polluted, yet the ocean in itself is the  largest living space on earth,” Imbeni told IDN. 

For the Namibian activist, coastal areas, which are some of the most productive and biologically diverse on the planet, are fast disappearing as humans take them over with reckless abandon.

In Tanzania, the ocean crisis has reached alarming proportions, according to Sea Sense, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works closely with coastal communities in the East African nation to conserve and protect endangered marine species including sea turtles, dugongs, whales, dolphins and whale sharks.

Sea Sense reports that one of the biggest threats to the marine ecosystem and fisheries-based livelihoods in Tanzania is dynamite fishing, which is the act of using explosives to kill or stun large schools of fish for easy collection. Dynamite fishing indiscriminately kills many marine species with each blast.

Meanwhile, for Zimbabweans like Dube, giving a thought to ocean life may remain secondary. “Shall I breed diseases with garbage lying in my backyard because I have to protect some ocean life which I don’t see near me?” she asked. [IDN-InDepthNews – 5 June 2017]

Photo: The significance of ocean life across Africa means very little to many people here as they enjoy vacations on ocean-side beaches like Muizernberg beach in Cape Town, shown in the photo. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo | IDN-INPS

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate –

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