World Ocean Day: Celebration or Eulogy?

Plastic man got no brain
Plastic man don’t feel no pain
Plastic people look the same.

He’s got a plastic wife who wears a plastic mac
And his children wanna be plastic like their dad
He’s got a phony smile that makes you think he understands
But no one ever gets the truth from plastic man.

Plastic Man: Ray Davies, The Kinks; 1973

Last week we wrote on the sixth great extinction, the manmade eco-disaster that is currently plaguing the planet. It was a suitable introduction for the following thoughts, facts and commentary; the 8th June is World Oceans Day, and if there is one aspect of conservation that stands above others in the Waterfront Charters world, it’s the protection of the oceans that surround us. Of course, we have a vested interest: the Atlantic Ocean is our home. It’s where we ply our trade, where we recreate ourselves, where we feel most comfortable. Waterfront Charters have been offering cruises from the V&A Waterfront since the beginning of the 1990’s – since then we have built up our selection of vessels carefully and with considered thinking, ensuring that our guests get the full range of excitement and enjoyment from our trips out on the Atlantic, around the coastline, and even in the bustling harbour.

We have focussed strongly on the eco-tourism aspect of our cruises for a variety of reasons. South Africa is one of the last bastions of land-based wildlife , and tourists flock to our country (when viruses are not in season, that is) to see the Big Five and all the accompanying creatures that roam the game reserves. It makes complete sense to extend that interest in wildlife offshore: we are surrounded by phenomenal creatures that make the ocean their home, and these mammals, fish and other inhabitants are every bit as interesting as their terrestrial cousins. We also believe that by highlighting the plight of our oceans we can raise awareness; if every guest aboard a Waterfront Charters cruise takes notice of the message we are teaching, and passes it on, we will be going a long way towards initiating change. And that change is vital. As recently as 1950, scientists believed that the oceans were so vast that pollution would never be a problem. Boy, did they get that wrong. At first it was nuclear waste that was dumped haphazardly, then in the 60’s oil pollution started becoming an issue. Oil spills, random oil tank flushing and super tankers running aground started killing off large sectors of marine life, Stop that! said the authorities at the 1972 London Convention, banning dumping waste from ships, but neglecting to ban dumping from pipelines.

Then came the Plastic Revolution. Everything on earth could be conceivably made of, wrapped in, sealed with, preserved by or filled with plastic. The throwaway society was born, and all that one-use plastic just got in the way, so: toss it. Into drains, bins, rivers, roads: you name it, it had plastic in it, and ultimately the bulk of it found its way to the oceans. We have spoken of this before, but like any lesson it bears repeating until change is put into place: plastic is killing off our oceans. Rapidly. Eighty percent – yes, 80% – of the trash in our seas is plastic waste, and this has all been dumped in the last forty or so years. If we keep up this rate of attrition, the seas will just be dead, salty, plastic filled soup in a century or so. It’s not an easy statistic to measure, but current thought is that there is around 100 000 000 tonnes of plastic in the oceans, and increasing exponentially. The plastic breaks down slowly, but that isn’t a good thing either, as it deteriorates into toxic particles. Whether the fish eat the ‘nurdles’, as the broken up waste is called, or take in polluted water through their gills, the result is the same: they die.

And that, as all good ad campaigns are wont to say, isn’t all. There is acidification (the raising of acid levels in seawater through carbon waste); eutrophication (the increase of toxic chemicals through unrestricted dumping into rivers that run into the sea, fertilizers that end up in the sea, and human and livestock waste – those suspicious looking pipelines that pump brown sludge directly into the ocean); toxins (mostly from industrial waste that is illegally dumped); and even underwater noise (from the plethora of vessels that ply the surface, sonar from naval vessels and seismic surveys, all of which can disorientate and upset marine life, affecting migration patterns and therefore reproduction.) It’s a battery of disasters are far as marine life is concerned, and when combined with that other great human failing – overfishing – it spells imminent disaster for our marine life.

We ask all our guests to take note of this, and spread the word. It’s the only way we can build up a powerful lobby group to take on the careless governments, corporations and greedy individuals who are turning a blind eye. Check out https://worldoceansday.org/, and then join the movement that is aiming to protect our Blue Planet. It’s the only opportunity we’ll have; it will take around a billion years for all our species to evolve again, and it’s unlikely that too many of us will there the second time around. When restrictions have lifted, join Waterfront Charters on any one of our cruises and get first-hand insight into the beauty and wonder that deserves our protection, help and care.