JOHANNESBURG - As we draw the international community’s attention to investment opportunities in our country, we observe that our planet’s oceans are trending – but not in a good, “hot spot for holidays” way.

There are raging debates over everything from plastic particles in the fish we catch to the degradation and pollution of the oceans that cover more than 70 percent of our planet’s surface.

Many companies realise they must direct funding to help protect this precious natural resource. Having already steered this course, we can offer some pointers.

Initially, growing custodianship of the ocean as one of our major social responsibility strands emerged as an authentic connection to our company heritage. Our corporate forebears merged entrepreneurship and the potential of ocean trade more than a century ago. 

Though Grindrod Shipping was spun off into a separate JSE listing last year, Grindrod Bank is still head-quartered in Durban, Africa’s biggest port. We realised we were ideally placed to support certain threads of the Phakisa Oceans Economy plan. It is estimated that South Africa’s increased use of this little tapped resource has the potential to contribute up to R177 billion to gross domestic product and create more than 1 million jobs by 2033.

We saw potential for us to give support to focus areas such as marine protection, research and tourism. 

We partnered with WildTrust, a leading South African environmental non-profit organisation. In 2015, we jointly founded The Blue Fund. 

We have succeeded in attracting other partners – and welcome more. 

A crucial factor in the appeal of WildTrust for us was the way it fosters human-environment nexus. Under its WildOceans banner, for example, the Ocean Stewards project supports the development of marine biology skills by offering everything from bursaries for tertiary studies to facilitating ocean research trips. 

The international focus on the oceans has helped boost the popularity of whale watching across the globe. The focus in South Africa has been in the Western Cape. But the reality of the long whale migration up from their Antarctic feeding grounds to the Cape coast and north around our coast, usually in June and July, to breeding grounds in Mozambique and Madagascar is becoming better known. 

At this time of year, the adults are returning south with their calves, with whales being seen off the KZN coasts often as late as year-end. 

David Polkinghorne is the managing director of Grindrod Bank.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.