Buntu Sibiya addresses world leaders about the importance of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Picture: Joel Sheakoski
Durban – A 14-year-old schoolgirl from iSimangaliso has just had the trip of a lifetime – telling 40 heads of state, royalty and more than 2000 people about the importance of protecting the ocean as a source of recreation and employment; protecting animals such as nesting turtles; and protecting resources.

She went on to warn the global gathering that “people need to realise that plastic pollution is killing our oceans and turtles, and overfishing damages our food sources and ocean mining threatens our heritage”.

A young group, along with Prince Albert II of Monaco who spearheaded the pledge campaign, then signed the pledge, vowing to protect the oceans for future generations.

An online video of Buntu Sibiya addressing the gathering enabled her school to see her and her school principal, Leonard Mthembu. They sent a message of congratulations, saying it was exciting seeing her at the UN.

Commending her for her good leadership qualities, Mthembu praised Sibiya for representing the school and iSimangaliso.

Held in the same week that South Africa marked Youth Day, Andrew Zaloumis, the chief executive of iSimangaliso, said the UN event was the ultimate Youth Day commemoration.

“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,” he said.

Sibiya’s father said that seeing his daughter talking to the heads of state at the UN assembly “not only humbled me, but also made me realise the importance of saving our oceans from littering and exploitation by humankind”.

“I have 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.

“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.”

As for his daughter, who had never been overseas before, she said: “What an experience. My dad made it clear to me that we were travelling for work, but I had fun.”

Daily News