Turning the tide to clean our oceans

By Terry van der Walt Time of article published Feb 8, 2021

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In the two and half years Sea The Bigger Picture has been operating we have conducted 30 large beach clean-up events aimed at giving the community an opportunity to get involved and learn about recycling in a fun and interactive way.

We partner with eco-friendly brands, collect data from every clean-up we do and make ecobricks from the non-recyclable waste we pick up. We also make some recyclable waste available for use by local artists.

We use the events as a way of highlighting the desperate need to change the way we interact with and use single-use plastics.

The beach clean-ups often provide a shocking eye opener to the severity of the problem for the people who join us.

These 30 events have removed just short of 10 tons of plastic and other waste from the beaches across Cape Town.

Read the latest Simply Green digital magazine below

At the end of every clean-up the waste is sorted and every item is counted and captured in our database. This data shows us what items are prolific on which beaches. Eighteen months of data collecting is starting to show interesting results.

The most common items found are cooldrink bottles and lids; cigarette butts; sweet wrappers; chip packets; lollipop sticks and polystyrene food packaging. The polystyrene is so abundant it’s impossible to count it all.

Defenders of the blue

So far, we have introduced 60 children to the ocean through our Defenders of the Blue programme. Facilitated by two of our directors Shamier Magmoet, co-founder of #STBP, and Stefanie Titus, Defenders of the Blue is our youth citizen science programme. We connect youth from the Cape metropole to the magic of the underwater world and the fascinating intertidal zones through:

• Snorkelling

• Tasks that extend their knowledge and their team and leadership skills. We have also implemented a new structure for Defenders of the Blue which we are very excited about. Dr Nasreen Peer and Dr Nelson Miranda from Argonaut Science wrote the curriculum with the introduction of marine science at high school level in mind. We’ve just completed our first set of sessions with an amazing group of kids who responded very well.

As our beach clean-up events continue, we have dropped the locations that have better municipal presence and will focus our efforts next year on areas that need a lot of intervention, such as the Black River mouth.

Our aim is to be one of the custodians of our ocean. Our dynamic team of passionate and dedicated individuals formed the NPO #SEATHEBIGGERPICTURE Ocean Initiative in August 2018 as a proactive means to:

• Physically clean up the ocean, beaches and rivers. Mitigation is vital while legislation is still not in favour of the environment.

• Create public awareness and inspire public involvement through beach clean-up events.

• Educate our youth and the public via our programmes and social media to inspire and inform them in an easily consumable way which will empower them to carry on the legacy and find new solutions to the environmental challenges we face.

• Teaching snorkelling for a hands-on approach to protecting marine life. We especially want to encourage youths who live at, or near, the coast who have not been exposed to the ocean in a safe, meaningful way.

• Engage with the media to promote ongoing awareness.

• Engage with the corporate and private sectors to help drive positive change.

• Network with environmental groups, brands and individuals for a greater impact.

Our ultimate goal is for planet Earth to have the chance to heal and thrive.

We are fast saturating the oceans with plastics and if we protect and manage our oceans in a sustainable way, every living being benefits.

Kids are shown how to take photos underwater. Picture: Supplied

How you can help

Come to our beach clean-ups and volunteer your time. This is a great gift which anyone can give.

Donate to the cause – our programmes are all publicly funded and we need your help.

Details are on our website and we are always open to chatting about how you can best help us.

4 things we’ve learnt along the way

• Humans prefer convenience to consciousness. That said, we realise an eco-friendly lifestyle is still very expensive and is a privilege a large part of our population does not have. We cannot change behaviour and connect communities to nature while people are hungry and living in severe poverty.

• Our out of sight, out of mind mentality is our biggest downfall. Changing it through education is often slow and frustrating but it’s the only way we’ll make sustainable change.

• The production of single-use plastics cannot continue at the present rate; mitigation and education only go so far. As long as convenience items are produced and available, communities will buy them.

• The ocean is more polluted than we originally thought – as much as 90% of the plastic pollution is under the surface and lining the seabed.

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