If the Students Can’t Reach the Ocean, the Ocean Will Reach the Students

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Photo Credit: Olivia Anderson for Two Oceans Aquarium

Waste and pollution are a defining characteristic of our times. Entire ecosystems are being smothered by it, including our oceans. Although many pollutants come from industrial plants, factory farms, and intensive agricultural processes, the most ubiquitous type of waste is generated by discarded plastic. From everyday use items to the toothpaste you brush your teeth with and the fish you eat, plastic is likely to be present. 

Tragically often, the compound ends up in the sea: it lays on the oceans floor, gets tangled or ingested by sea animals, or washed ashore. According to the United Nation’s report on marine debris, around 800 marine species are affected by it, and 80% of the waste is plastic. The most common marine debris types are food packaging, plastic bottles and caps, grocery bags, cigarette butts, and straws.

A considerable amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans is composed of tiny particles of plastic. For example, the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is almost entirely composed of microplastics, rather than being a massive island of floating trash. Sometimes these bits and pieces are hard to see with the naked eye, making the water look like a murky concoction of bits of plastic mixed with larger items such as clothes and tires, as well as fishing gear, lines, and nets.

These sneaky, minuscule particles of plastic are now part of humans’ and marine animals’ daily diet. Some research suggests that microplastics and nanoplastics can spread throughout the body, crossing the brain-blood barrier, posing significant threats to human and animal health. However, the endocrine-disrupting effects of plastic on humans and fishes have already been confirmed.

A study by UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) calculated that each year around 8 million metric tons of plastic end up into the oceans. This is the equivalent of five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.

During the extended level 5 lockdown in Cape Town, some teams of researchers from South Africa’s Working for Coast programme and the University of Cape Town collected 13,665 litter items with a total weight of 78.7kg. This means that they collected around 1,367 new litter items per day on a 1,050km stretch of coastline.

About 94% of the identifiable waste came from local sources, and the rest was mainly washed ashore from Asian countries. Added to the plastic pollution, the city of Cape Town recently announced the beloved beaches of the city failed the minimum water quality guidelines over the last two years.

Unsurprisingly, the mismanagement of waste and polluting agents on behalf of many middle and low-income countries around the world is the main culprit behind the ocean’s pollution. Although governments have the responsibility to manage waste properly, citizens tend to lack proper environmental education, becoming part of the problem.

Unlike plastic, education is still a scarce resource. Around 72 million children worldwide do not have access to primary education, and about 759 million adults are considered illiterate. If education is a privilege for many, let alone environmental awareness. We want to change this. If we do not take action now, the ocean might never recover.

The GVI Trust is trying to be part of the solution to this problem, and recently started a new, thrilling partnership with a South African aquarium. This partnership was born to bring environmental and marine education to children from local disadvantaged townships through the “Oceans in Motion” project. Many children living in the area, in fact, have never been in contact with marine life and ecosystems due to a lack of resources.

The “Oceans in Motion” project aims to bridge this gap in a new, creative way: if the children can’t reach the sea, the sea will reach the children! A fully funded “ocean bus,” equipped with educational materials, fun resources, and rock-pools with live animals, will visit numerous under-resourced schools in the area who cannot afford a visit to the aquarium.

The Oceans in Motion lessons are delivered by Thabo Sabeko, the aquarium’s outreach teacher. Thabo has designed several unique learning experiences aimed to engage students and teach them how to take care of water and the animals that depend on it. His animal companions, whom he profoundly cherishes and takes care of, accompany him on his trips, and their presence is absolutely central to the lessons.

Students will learn about water on planet earth, where it comes from, what it is, and why it is essential to take care of it and of the creatures that live in it. From wetlands to water safety, from ecosystems to sea urchins, from plastic pollution to learning about the rocky shorelines of South Africa. Students will learn this and much more.

The project has been going on for about two years on a local scale, and in 2018 reached 53,329 children. We hope that children learning about the ocean through our projects will consider a career in conservation. In 2020 we aim at reaching 80,000 students. Yet, @GVITrust hopes to bring environmental and marine protection to an even larger audience, helping scale up the project and hoping to ignite a fire in tomorrow’s young change-makers. However, we wish for it to become a sustainable community project with a stable income, becoming part of the community’s tools for environmental awareness.

For more information and to donate visit the project page here

Prepared by: Tyrone Bennett, CEO

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