iSimangaliso scholar presents at UN for World Oceans Day Event

19 Jun 2017

As the nation prepares for this year’s Youth Day, iSimangaliso has placed the youngsters of its own community at the epicentre of its people-centered conservation approach, by sending local schoolgirl, Buntu Sibiya, to New York to represent the Park.

On World Oceans Day, iSimangaliso representative Buntu Sibiya (14) joined a group of young people from 13 of UNESCO’s marine World Heritage Sites around the globe to launch a campaign called #MyOceanPledge. On behalf of the entire marine World Heritage community – including 49 ‘jewels of the ocean’ or marine World Heritage Sites – the group made a pledge to preserve our precious oceans for future generations.

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Buntu Sibiya (front) addressing the United National General Assembly in New York. (Photo by Joel Sheakoski)

“It was the ultimate Youth Day event,” says Andrew Zaloumis, iSimangaliso’s CEO. “The future of our oceans – and of our natural heritage as a whole – is ultimately dependent on our youth, so we get them involved in opportunities like this, our Environmental and Higher Education Programmes and work opportunities wherever we can.”

The event took place within the framework of the United National General Assembly in New York, USA, and Buntu was one of three children selected to address the Assembly on behalf of the youth. Her message to over 2000 delegates, 40 heads of state and royalty highlighted the importance of the ocean.

“As one of the 49 UNESCO jewels of the ocean, iSimangaliso is important to our community as a source of recreation and employment, protection of animals – like nesting turtles – and resources such as fishing,” Buntu explained to the audience, “and people need to realise that plastic pollution is killing our oceans and turtles, overfishing damages our food source and ocean mining threatens our heritage.”

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His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco spearheaded the signing of the #MyOceanPledge. He was joined by Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, as well as Adrian Grenier, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Environment. Each of the 32 participating youth from 13 World Heritage Sites in 11 countries – which included marine sites such as Galapagos Island, the Great Barrier Reef and Seychelles – also signed their personal pledges. (Photos by Joel Sheakoski)

According to UNESCO’s Coordinator Marine Programme, Fanny Douvere, “We could not have dreamed of a better way to share our precious cause with the world. This was a totally unique opportunity to have an entire segment dedicated to protecting marine World Heritage Sites in front of over 40 heads of state at the closing part of the high level celebration at the UN General Assembly (UNGA).”

Buntu, a Grade 9 learner at Mtubatuba Christian Academy, was born and raised within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site in South Africa. She was joined by her father, Park Operations Director Sizo Sibiya.

“What an experience!” she said. “This trip presented me with an extraordinary opportunity as a first time overseas traveller. My dad made it clear to me that we were travelling for work but I had fun! I was in New York for the first time, yet I had an exclusive opportunity to set my foot in the United Nations Assembly Buildings, giving a talk to a number of the world’s heads of state and over 2000 delegates. I never knew I could do this but UNESCO’s marine programme, together with iSimangaliso and my school, made this a reality.”

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Buntu’s message – videotaped and circulated on social media – highlighted the importance of the ocean.

A message of congratulations was sent to her by Buntu’s school principal, Leonard Mthembu, who commended her on her good leadership qualities saying, “We would like to congratulate her for having represented the school and iSimangaliso in the world marine celebration in New York. We watched the video online and seeing her as one of the three who presented was so exciting.”

“Seeing and listening to my daughter talking to the heads of state in the United Nations Assembly not only humbled me, but also made me realise the importance of saving our oceans from littering and exploitation by humankind. I’ve come back home with a real appreciation for the enormous amount of work, energy and passion that the UNESCO Marine World Heritage Programme and its agencies invest into protecting and nurturing our global ocean jewels – and with the launch of #MyOceanPledge, 32 youth have also gone home to carry that same message back to their own communities,” comments Sizo Sibiya. “It was an incredibly significant occasion to be part of – listening to heads of state and respective world dignitaries talking with one voice about the protection of our oceans.”

Background

The 332000ha iSimangaliso Wetland Park was inscribed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999. It is not only a marine World Heritage Site but also forms part of Africa’s first transfrontier Marine Protected Area together with Mozambique. Amongst other attributes, this marine area provides protection for five of the world’s seven sea turtle species, of which two (the loggerhead and endangered leatherback turtle) nest on its shores; 1200 species of fish; 100 species of warm water coral; whales, whale sharks, sharks and dolphins, and the world’s oldest fish – the coelacanth.

Here’s how you can take part in the #MyOceanPledge on social media:

  • Post your pledge: “I pledge to protect the ocean for future generations” on whc.unesco.org/myoceanpledge.
  • Share on social media with UNESCO Marine World Heritage (@Fdouvere) using the hashtag #MyOceanPledge.

For media enquiries and photographs contact Bronwyn Coppola on 083 450 9111 or bronwyn@abetterworld.co.za.