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South African Youth Call On The President To Listen To The Ocean

  • 5 min read

President Cyril Ramaphosa joined leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US and others – in Carbis Bay, Cornwall this past weekend 11th-13th June, for the G7 Summit. The G7 brings prime ministers and presidents from several countries together to discuss problems facing the world including economic issues, health emergencies and the climate crisis.

Covid-19 clearly dominated the agenda of the South African president at the summit, and this prompted questions and comments from youth – who have since delivered strong messages to the President on national television and across social media platforms

“Covid-19 taught us to listen to science, and science is telling us to #ListenToTheOcean,” said young ocean advocate, Nomzamo Phungula. “The ocean is telling us it is choking from all the rubbish, it is getting warmer, its fish are dying, and it cannot breathe. Too many people are taking the oceans’ fish, oil and gas and it needs more protection. The ocean is crying for help – our help.”

Over-fishing, damaging industrial activities, habitat destruction, climate change and pollution are not letting up and by not protecting our ocean’s ability to keep giving what we take, we risk a biodiversity crisis, ocean collapse and a subsequent economic catastrophe. Science tells us that we could be facing widespread ecosystem collapse starting as early as 2030.

“The ocean can recover but we need to give it a fighting chance, we need to give it more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs),” said Phungula. “The health of the ocean determines my future and if we look after our ocean, it will look after us.”

MPAs are a critical tool in the ocean protection toolbox, playing a vital role in maintaining biological diversity and ecosystem functioning by controlling harmful activities in sensitive habitats and by preserving representative areas from unsustainable human development. MPAs are a vital instrument to combat the effects of climate change and to prevent impacts escalating further.

Less than 8% of the global ocean currently lies within MPAs, but only 2.7% is considered fully or highly protected – this is in sharp contrast to the 30% in high or full protection called for by the scientific community by 2030. Meanwhile, the ocean is bearing the brunt of regulating our planet’s temperature, alongside its role as a critical carbon sink, thus ensuring a habitable Earth.

“Covid-19 is not the only crisis we should be focused on; it is the slow collapse of the ocean that needs urgent attention,” said Phungula.

“How can you begin to tackle the climate crisis and biodiversity decline if you don’t address the ocean Mr President?” asked another young ocean ambassador, Ruth Mthembu.

A campaign launched at the G7 Summit called #ListenToTheOcean has been adopted by the youth of South Africa, and they have made it their own.

“You may be wondering what young people are doing listening to shells and seemingly talking to themselves – well, firstly, we are trying to get your attention and secondly we want you, our President, Minister Creecy and all South Africans to start listening to the ocean,” said Mthembu.

“The objective of #ListentotheOcean is to provide an umbrella campaign under which all ocean organisations can unite. If we align our messages and collectively raise our voices for the ocean, all our individual messages around ocean protection will be carried further,” said Mthembu. Global leaders need to listen to the ocean and integrate ocean action into climate crisis mitigation.

There are clear measures that can and must be taken now to help stop the rapid decline in ocean health and the loss of support it provides. Such measures include the negotiation of a strong and robust High Seas Treaty that is in the best interests of the ocean and humanity, and the protection of at least 30% of the global ocean from destructive industrial and non-industrial activity, by 2030.

The ‘Ocean iMPAct’ campaign (behind the South African #ListenToTheOcean concept) launched an appeal earlier this year, directed at Minister Barbara Creecy (South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment) to increase protection of the ocean space around South Africa from 5% to 10%. South Africa needs to join the global community and contribute towards the global target of 30% of the world’s ocean protected within MPAs by 2030.

The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the vital importance of science-led action. It has also shown that global challenges require a global response. We need the same approach to be taken as global leaders discuss how to build back from the crisis and create a healthier and more prosperous world. We need global leaders to take ocean action to protect our planet’s life support system.

*In a letter published on 7 June from “the desk of the President” Ramaphosa said:

“Throughout the course of our history, we have had setbacks and false starts. But our resilient nature allowed us to weather many storms. It is this drive and determination that must continue to propel us forward as our country recovers socially, politically, and economically.”

“The storms will keep coming and each time with more intensity Mr President,” said Mthembu. “If we do not protect the ocean, we won’t solve the climate crisis. Listen to the ocean – it is telling us what we need to do for it, for the climate, for our economy, for humanity.”

South Africa urgently needs to increase protection to 10% for the future of our biodiversity and our people.

“The ocean gives us every second breathe we take; it gives us food, jobs, and provides us with sanctuary. Considering all it does for us, better protecting it is the least we can do,” concluded Phungula.

To view the campaign video, visit: