#02 2024

Mission Blue Hope Spot shines spotlight on False Bay

By Rabia Mathakutha (Research Coordinator, SAPRI and NRF-SAEON) and Philile Mvula (PhD Candidate, UCT, NRF-SAEON)

Three early-career researchers from the NRF-SAEON Egagasini Node recently attended the Ocean of Hope Workshop hosted by Dr Sylvia Earle and Mission Blue, to celebrate the False Bay Hope Spot in the Western Cape, South Africa. The workshop was held at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, and hosted by the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, one of the two False Bay Hope Spot champions. Cape RADD (Research And Diver Development), the other False Bay Hope Spot champion, was also in attendance.

The Ocean of Hope Workshop was hosted to convene Hope Spot champions, partners and officials to discuss key threats, current work being done to address the threats and identify knowledge gaps in the marine conservation space focusing on the False Bay area. Various organisations in the field of marine conservation were invited to attend the Ocean of Hope Workshop. Based on the benthic invertebrates monitoring and mapping projects that the Egagasini Node’s offshore marine scientist, Dr Lara Atkinson, and her team are leading, three young researchers from the Node were also given the opportunity to attend.

Mission Blue – inspiring action 

Mission Blue was founded in 2009 to inspire action to explore and protect the ocean. Out of Mission Blue’s 159 global Hope Spots spanning over 70 countries and covering 57 million square kilometres of ocean, seven are located along the South African coastline. These are the False Bay, Cape Whale Coast, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Algoa Bay and Aliwal Shoal Hope Spots, with the most recent Hope Spot sharing a coastline with Mozambique, the Maputaland Hope Spot.

Hope Spots are special places that are either scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean or proposed by locals as areas needing protection. These Hope Spots are championed by local conservationists whom Mission Blue supports with communications, expeditions and scientific advice.

Mission Blue is reactivating these Hope Spots by bringing together local stakeholders to learn about each other’s work, meet individuals and groups working in marine conservation, and share challenges, best practices and successes. The aim is to bring together an extensive network to collaborate on current threats and calls to action and to celebrate the work being done in marine conservation.

Location map showing the seven Mission Blue Hope Spots associated with the South African coastline.

Dr Sylvia Earle, president and co-chair of Mission Blue, delivering the opening remarks at the Ocean of Hope Workshop in Cape Town.

First Hero for the Planet, Dr Sylvia Earle 

In attendance at the Ocean of Hope Workshop was the president and co-chair of Mission Blue/The Sylvia Earle Alliance, Dr Sylvia Earle. Dr Earle is an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer with experience as a field research scientist, government official and director for several corporate and non-profit organisations.

Through her work, she has earned several honours such as National Geographic Society Explorer at Large, Living Legend by the Library of Congress and First Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine. She has also earned the titles “Her Deepness” and “The Sturgeon General” by leading the Sustainable Seas Expedition. Many know her from the documentary film, Mission Blue, which debuted on Netflix in 2014.

Her Deepness delivered the opening remarks, in which she cautioned that we as human beings are causing Earth to move inexplicably in the direction of Mars. This warning was supported by a visual representation of Earth, “the blue planet” and Mars, “the red planet”, as Dr Earle referred to them, clearly showing Mars lacking the blue and the green that enable Earth to sustain life.

She then went on to suggest that you, we, all of us, have the best opportunity that any humans have ever had to shift the trajectory – we are armed with knowledge that is unique in our time, but we need to hurry. She added that she loves the fact that individuals can and do make a difference, and getting the youth engaged is critical.

Some advice that Dr Earle shared about how we can take a step towards conserving our oceans, “the blue heart of the planet” as she calls it, is to get learners from different schools and backgrounds across Hope Spots in different parts of the world to write letters to each other, get them talking and sharing thoughts. We need to find and protect places/ecosystems that are still in good condition, while also undertaking efforts to rehabilitate and restore those that are not, even if it means initiating action right in our own backyards.

Dr Earle reminded us that most life on Earth lives in the dark, at the bottom of the ocean. To encourage curiosity, wonder and stewardship, she emphasised the importance of getting to know our neighbours in the ocean environment, urging us to be curious about who they are and what they do, before contemplating what they can do for us. “With knowing comes caring,” she added.

Dr Earle then recalled her previous visits to South Africa, recounting her interactions with children, and engagements with communities, scientists and diverse individuals along the South African coastline, from Cape Town to Durban. She laughed as she said coming to South Africa is addictive and that she looks forward to future opportunities to work with people in South Africa, celebrate what they have, and build a message to take to the world.

Feedback from organisations 

The floor was then opened to the organisations attending to present their roles in the False Bay Hope Spot. Among the distinguished speakers and presenters were Dr Tessa Hempson, chief scientist at Mission Blue, who shared insights on leveraging the South African initiative to catalyse the Mission Blue Hope Spots network. Also in attendance was Mike Barron, co-founder of Cape RADD and False Bay Hope Spot Champion.

Dr Judy Mann-Lang, executive for strategic projects at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, delivered a compelling talk, alongside Ms Swati Foster and Dr Jannes Landschoff from the Sea Change Project, Mr Robin Adams from WWF South Africa, Ms Hanli Prinsloo from I AM WATER Foundation, Mr Pierre de Villiers from Cape Nature, Mr Shamier Magmoet – a documentary filmmaker and ocean conservationist from Sea The Bigger Picture Ocean Initiative,  Ms Lauren van Nijkerk from WILDTRUST, Ms Georgina Jones from the Southern Underwater Research Group and Ms Aaniya Martin from The Beach Co-op.

Their presentations sparked stimulating discussions including engaging in dedicated roundtable breakout sessions aimed at understanding the greatest threats/challenges and opportunities in conserving South Africa’s marine ecosystems. The focus extended to exploring the potential contributions of Mission Blue, whether through policy advocacy, effective communication strategies, scientific endeavours or network strengthening.

Dr Earle concluded the proceedings by saying, “This is a time of awakening for life on Earth. Saving the ocean is a team sport. We are the cause, we are the problem, we are the solution. Have respect for what keeps you alive and use your power to give back”.

After Dr Earle’s closing remarks, the participants had an opportunity to explore the Two Oceans Aquarium and connect with the animals with her words still echoing through their minds and hearts.

Paddle Out Hope Spot Celebration 

Mission Blue additionally hosted a Paddle Out Hope Spot Celebration on 10 February. This event served as a symbolic gathering, uniting surfers, SUPers, divers, ocean lovers and ocean stewards to celebrate the ocean and raise awareness about ocean conservation. The Ocean of Hope Workshop participants had the opportunity to explore the False Bay Hope Spot with a snorkel trip led by the False Bay Hope Spot Champion, Cape RADD.

Ocean of Hope workshop attendees. L-R: Jamila Janna (operations manager, The Beach Co-Op), Philile Mvula (PhD candidate, UCT, NRF-SAEON), Dr Sylvia Earle, Rabia Mathakutha, research coordinator, SAPRI and NRF-SAEON, and Abuyiselwe Nguna, research coordinator, SAPRI and NRF-SAEON. Philile, Rabia and Abuyiselwe attended on behalf of the Egagasini Node.

Snorkel for Science experience by Cape Research and Diver Development. L-R: Aaron Barnes (PhD candidate, Sea Search), Rabia Mathakutha (research coordinator, SAPRI and NRF-SAEON), Justin Blake (founder, The Rockhopper Fund NGO), Philile Mvula (PhD candidate, UCT and NRF-SAEON), Jade Garridigan (SAMPAN coordinator, WWF South Africa), Mark Fitzgibbon (marine biologist, Cape RADD), Lauren Van Noort (administrative assistant, The Rockhopper Fund NGO), Martine Viljoen (Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation; founder, WaddleOn vy Marts) and Renée Leeuwner (community fundraiser, National Sea Rescue Institute).