Highlighting iSimangaliso’s marine protection

20 Aug 2018

Last month, a young South African record-breaking long distance endurance swimmer, Sarah Ferguson, successfully completed a 100km ocean swim over a total of six days, covering parts of Africa’s largest transfrontier marine protected area (which in total covers 300km of unbroken coastline) between southern Mozambique and the waters off the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa.

Ferguson, who founded the non-profit organisation ‘Breathe’ that focuses on ocean conservation initiatives, approached iSimangaliso for permission to transit the protected waters as part of her campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution in our waterways and oceans. This cause resonates strongly with our own conservation efforts as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and that of our parent body, the national Department of Environmental Affairs.

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Endurance swimmer Sarah Ferguson swam 100km in six days across the transfrontier marine protected area straddling Mozambique and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. (Photos: Wofty Wild)

One of iSimangaliso’s licensed scuba diving operators, Adventure Mania, provided the support crew for the iSimangaliso leg, which took Ferguson and team from the Sodwana Bay launch site each day to the starting point for the days’ swim.

Writing about her experience after the completion of her swim, Ferguson said:

“Being the first swim of its kind for me and my team, we did not know what to expect, and had to rely on our collective experience and the locals for guidance. Thankfully, we were incredibly blessed with phenomenal weather. This, together with ideal swimming conditions and awe-inspiring marine life encounters made this experience life changing and unforgettable. The sound of humpback whales, waves pushing me from behind and the odd turtle and shark sighting was enthralling and filled me with such a sense of awe and immense well-being. Also, being totally exposed to the elements was utterly invigorating and freeing, while knowing that I was swimming for more than myself – taking a stand against a global environmental issue, and educating others on how to live and practice a plastic-free life.”

“Sadly I have to report that we did find plastic both in the ocean and on the beach even in some of the remotest areas. I knew that there was purpose with every stroke I took – to create awareness of the plight of plastic pollution. And this sense of responsibility continues to weigh heavily on me,” she said.

In recent years, the environmental impacts of plastic pollution have been steadily revealed and are being taken seriously by our government. In June this year, the national Minister of Environmental Affairs, the Honourable Edna Molewa, called on South Africans to join hands to eradicate plastic pollution as she announced this year’s World Environment Day theme: ‘Beating Plastic Pollution’.

“Plastic pollution is particularly insidious because once plastics enter into the environment, they do not biodegrade, but simply break down into smaller pieces over time. This has a detrimental effect on our environment, more so once this pollution enters our oceans and endangers marine life and fragile marine ecosystems,” said Minister Molewa, urging governments, industries, communities and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic products,” said Molewa.

Although iSimangaliso’s waters and terrestrial areas are protected, a huge amount of waste still finds its way into our rivers and beaches. According to the African Marine Waste Network, it is estimated that 350kg of plastic waste enters the ocean every second – that is the equivalent of two and a half African elephants worth of plastic EVERY MINUTE. At this rate, by 2045 there could be as much as 600kg of waste entering the ocean every second. And it isn’t just the large, visible waste that is problematic – micro-plastics are a huge issue as well. Items such as face scrubs, toothpaste and other cosmetics frequently include plastic microbeads which end up in the ocean and food chain.

As the implementer of the “Working for the Coast” programme 130 people are employed and managed through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority to conduct regular patrols along our over 200km long coastline and clear the larger items of rubbish. However the danger still lurks in the tiny bits of broken down plastic materials that find their way into the marine system.

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As the implementer of the “Working for the Coast” programme 130 people are employed and managed through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority to conduct regular patrols along our over 200km long coastline and clear the larger items of rubbish. However the danger still lurks in the tiny bits of broken down plastic materials that find their way into the marine system.

What can YOU do?

  • Educate yourself: According to the South African NGO WildOceans, “South Africa currently has a network of 23 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) covering only 0.4 % of the oceans around South Africa. This is far short of the global target of at least 10% protection of the oceans by 2020 – to which South Africa has committed to as a member of the United Nations.” Keep yourself updated by following and supporting the ‘OnlyThisMuch’ campaign at www.onlythismuch.co.za.
  • Get involved at a beach, river or public area near you on World Cleanup Day on Saturday 15 Sept. Focus on filling bags with small plastic items that escape the usual cleaning patrols. www.worldcleanupday.org.
  • Create eco-bricks: Recycle your used 2 litre plastic cold drink bottles by making eco-bricks, which can be donated to organisations that use these to build houses. Eco bricks are low cost, thermally insulating bricks that are made by simply compressing unrecyclable plastic into 2L bottles. Find out more at africanwastenetwork.org.za/action-outreach/how-i-can-reuse-my-plastic/ecobricks.
  • Refuse the straw. A growing social movement is putting pressure on retailers to eradicate single use plastic items such as drinking straws and cutlery, and to do away with plastic shopping bags. Consider using bamboo or other sustainable products.
  • Stop using products with micro-plastics. Learn more here: www.beatthemicrobead.org

Media enquiries should be directed to Slindile Msweli at sli@isimangaliso.com.