#04 2022

National Marine Week: Raising awareness about the importance of our oceans

By Lulama Matshamba, Science Engagement Volunteer, NRF-SAEON & NRF-SAASTA

National Marine Week is a yearly celebration taking place in October. The aim of this event is to create awareness of the importance of South Africa’s marine and coastal environments, which provide us with vital goods and services, and the sustainable use and conservation of these environments. It is vital to educate communities and learners about our oceans as they face various threats.  

The National Marine Week celebrations include a wide range of events in different parts of the country including the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Southern Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

For this year’s event the Elwandle Node, in collaboration with Bayworld, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), the Sustainable Seas Trust, Zwartkops Conservancy, Metro – Enviro Unit and the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) presented a two-day celebration for learners in grades 6 and 7. Schools that attended the event were Walmer West Primary, Settlers Park Primary, John Masiza Primary and Lower Walmer Primary, reaching a total of 183 learners. Two schools were accommodated each day.

The Elwandle team highlighted the importance of the ocean and taught learners the basics of the food chain, using interactive activities to illustrate the complex relationship within the marine ecosystem. Following a short presentation on plankton, the learners gained hands-on experience on how different chemicals (acids/bases) change the chemical composition of water. This experiment illustrated how ocean acidification can be detrimental to shellfish.

Learners found it an amazing experience to view zooplankton species under the microscope. Many had been under the impression that plankton species were big enough to see with the naked eye.

At the end of each day, most learners indicated that they have learned and understood the concept of mutual dependence, how the removal of one organism could lead to the collapse of the ecosystem and how humans need to care for the ocean.

Our oceans are under constant threat with increasing global warming, overexploitation of the global marine fish population, sea pollution and melting of the world’s frozen ocean. The primary factors attributing to these problems are human activities and negligence. Overfishing is a major threat to the marine population – it is estimated that about 80% of the world’s fish population is affected by overfishing.

The biodiversity of the ecosystem is seriously endangered, resulting in agonising effects on our global economy and food security. Discarding trash is a key factor affecting marine life. Plastic straws, plastic bags, cigarette butts, fishing wires, oil spills, harmful chemicals and a variety of plastic debris are particularly harmful to aquatic life.

Did you know?

The world’s ocean:

  • generates most of the oxygen we breathe,
  • helps feed us,
  • regulates our climate,
  • is the primary producer of moisture to the atmosphere, which leads to rain,
  • cleans the water we drink,
  • offers us a pharmacopoeia of potential medicines,
  • provides limitless inspiration!

Learners studying a plankton sample under a microscope

Many learners had been under the impression that plankton species were big enough to see with the naked eye

Learners interacting during National Marine Week

Learners constructing the marine food chain