National Marine Week 2019: A Sea Change is Needed

Ab interitu naturam abhorrere.
(Nature abhors annihilation.)

Cicero; De Finibus, 45 BCE

This week is National Marine Week, which, as far as we at Waterfront Charters are concerned, makes it the most important week of the year. In fact, if truth be told, every week should be Marine Week: it’s all very well spending seven days pointing out exactly why the marine world needs protecting – it’s the other fifty one weeks of the year that people spend destroying and polluting the oceans that really matter. What needs to change is the mindset towards the sea: if it looks beautiful on the surface, it must be fine.

The pristine beaches of Cape Town are top among the reasons people make their way to the city every year.

It’s not. Underneath the glistening surface is a world that is being devastated by human ignorance, indifference, greed and laziness. Take a simple item like a cigarette butt tossed overboard. For reasons that escape sensible people, cigarette butts don’t seem to be regarded as litter by the bulk of smokers. They are: deadly litter. It takes five years for that filter to decompose in the sea, and that is only a fraction of the problem. The toxins that are in that discarded filter are lethal to sea life: one cigarette butt can pollute nearly ten litres of seawater, and kill off the plankton and micro-organisms and small crustaceans that are vital cogs in the marine feeding chain. What’s ten litres, you ask? In 2019, cigarettes are being purchased world-wide at a rate of 10 000 000 a minute. That’s five trillion cigarettes a year. Five thousand billion cigarettes! Billions of those butts end up polluting out waterways – they don’t have to be tossed overboard to end up in the ocean: they come via rain-washed roadways to rivers and drains and into that great dumping place, our oceans – and each butt contains toxic chemicals and lethal tobacco shards that wipe out the small creatures unlucky enough to be nearby.

Microplastic fibers identified in the marine environment.

That’s just cigarettes – little overlooked dregs of humanity’s pollution. When we step back and take a more generalised look at marine pollution, the problem becomes immense. Nine million tonnes of plastic finds its way into the oceans each year, and plastic takes around 450 years to biodegrade. During that time it does decompose – into deadly small microplastics (also called ‘nurdles’) that poison fish as effectively as tobacco. Some of the worlds most beautiful beaches are over 15% plastic: who knew? (Back to cigarette butts: sift through some shining white Clifton Beach sand one day and count the butts you unearth. You’ll be horrified.)

Guests aboard our luxury yachts and speedboats thrill to the sheer beauty of the aquatic environment.

Then there is overfishing. One third of our ocean species are threatened by overfishing of the resources; and that is not counting the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing which could take that figure up by another 30%. Which means, in technical terms, that we are now fishing down the trophic fish level; in other words once the bigger, predatory fishes at the top of the food chain are depleted, we fish smaller fish and invertebrates to make up necessary quotas. This cannot be sustained: from originally pristine waters, we head towards the second phase – exploited waters – and end up with the third and final phase, fully degraded waters. These dead waters are expanding across our oceans and will continue to grow at an exponential rate unless real measures to counter pollution and exploitation are introduced, monitored and policed.

Add to this the acidification of our oceans, a by-product of the carbon emissions that are responsible for global warming, and the picture that faces our following generations is bleak. Waterfront Charters love the ocean; after all, it supports our lifestyle and our industry. Guests aboard our luxury yachts and speedboats thrill to the sheer beauty of the aquatic environment, but it is time for every human on this planet to take heed of the warning signs. And it’s not just our children and their children: it’s happening now. The sixth extinction is upon us, and species are being killed off at rates that must have Charles Darwin spinning in his grave. We need to care; we need to act; we need to be aware; we need to educate and enforce.

National Marine Week: check it out at and see where you can get involved. Turning a blind eye to devastation of our seas is no longer an option for the human race.