Monday (8 June) is World Oceans Day. In an article for Mail & Guardian (7 June), Molly Czachur from the Evolutionary Genomics Group writes that we must all do our bit to save our oceans.
- Read the complete article below or click here for the piece as published.
We have all found ourselves admiring the beauty of the oceans and their marine wildlife, whether it's with our own eyes or whilst watching our favourite documentary on television.
Healthy oceans are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe. They also provide a staggering economic contribution that's worth trillions of US dollars per year. They give us food, transportation and energy, and they even help to regulate our climate and provide us with important cultural services. It seems wise for us to reap these benefits but the question remains: how willing are people to return the favour, and to take action for their oceans?
On June 8 each year, people across the globe celebrate World Oceans Day to highlight the importance of protecting our oceans and our marine wildlife. We will hear of the threats and challenges facing marine wildlife, and it's often overwhelming. Rather than getting lost in the numbers, an important next step is for all of us to take action to protect our oceans. When we really start to look, we can find many small seeds of hope in our everyday actions, and it is when we come together that these seeds are already growing bigger and stronger.
All actions will help us to move closer to achieving the United Nation's 14th Sustainable Development Goal for “life below water". This is a global effort to make sure that we are using our ocean resources sustainably.
My own experience of 'taking action' starts with my career as a marine biologist. We use DNA-based tools to describe marine wildlife in Southern Africa. It's sometimes difficult to explain genetics, and I'm always telling people that it's not just a boring school subject! In my own personal mission to inspire people about genetics, I made a comic to illustrate my work and I was blown away by the comics' reaction online. Hundreds of teachers contacted me from all corners of the world to request a copy for their classrooms, and it's since been translated into many different languages. This was a simple action with widespread impact. These teachers reinforced my notion that people take action (even for genetics) if they're given the right tools.
Now shift your gaze away from the classroom towards a place like the villages of Kenya, where coastal mangrove forests stretch across the country. When I first learned about mangroves, I thought they were magical ̶ they are trees that can live and thrive in seawater. Below the surface, the intertwined mangrove roots provide an aquatic habitat for young marine animals, and above the water, the branches and leaves bask in the sun. Mangrove trees are magical but they're also under threat. Mangrove wood is a useful building material so it's often cut down for wood, or cleared for 'more desirable' coastal developments. In Kenya, 20% of mangroves have disappeared in the past 30 years.
I was lucky enough to once work for a community of forward-thinking Kenyans who have come together to protect their mangroves. Instead of cutting down trees, the villagers are protecting them in a community-led project known as Mikoko Pamoja, which translates to “mangroves together". The local people protect their mangrove forests from deforestation, and as the trees grow they safely store carbon in the forest biomass and surrounding mud. Mikoko Pamoja then generates an income from this carbon storage, by selling carbon credits in the carbon market (read my blog post about carbon offsetting here). The money that they generate is used to build water systems, school resources and benefit the local medical dispensary. Their actions have now led to multi-layered benefits: the local coastline is protected, and the people are developing their education, healthcare and water resources.
This was just one example of how taking action can benefit the oceans and the people who depend on them, and there are seeds of hope everywhere. The most surprising thing I've found is that taking action looks different to everyone, and it always starts with you making the first move. Your unique voices, your creative thoughts and your actions will help us to spread the word about protecting our oceans. As the Kenyan villagers have shown, your actions can be beneficial for both people and the planet.
If you're not sure how you can take action in your own life, take inspiration from the digital world – from a quick google you'll discover a world of positive actions that can benefit the oceans. The United Nations have even released “The Lazy Person's Guide to Saving The World". For the oceans, a great place to start is with the “reducing marine pollution" target. You can do anything – from something as small as pledging to reduce your plastic consumption, up to those on the front line making policy changes. There are beach cleans organised all over the world, and if you can't find one to join then you could organise one yourself or simply collect trash when you're visiting the coast. Not near a beach? You can campaign to reduce pollution, or write to your local government representatives and express your opinions. Push for the changes that you want to see, whether it's about the consumption of plastic in your local area, or it's related to marine pollution from industrial or residential chemicals.
The world is urging you to join our “Decade of Action" as we move towards our 2030 targets. Whatever you do, your actions matter. Take an action today and see how far it will ripple.
- Share your ocean actions on social media to inspire others, using the hashtag #WorldOceansDay to connect with fellow marine wildlife lovers across the globe. Join the conversation with Molly on Twitter and Facebook (@zoologymolly), or visit www.zoologymolly.com for more resources.
*Molly Czachur is a PhD student in the Evolutionary Genomics Group in the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University.