South Africa generates approximately 2,371 thousand tonnes of plastic waste each year, of which only 14% (including imported waste) is recycled. As a result, approximately 80,000 tonnes of plastic is leaking into South Africa’s environment each year, with plastic pollution infiltrating and blocking water and drainage systems leading to increased flooding, harming biodiversity and posing a threat to human health and the economy.
From 16th – 17th June 2022, Members of the South African Legislators for the Environment (SALE) forum visited Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB), facilitated by Wilderness Foundation Africa and the ICCF Group, to engage with organisations and institutions in NMB who are innovating solutions to marine plastic pollution and increasing global collaboration and knowledge-sharing to conserve ocean environments.
Upon arrival in NMB, the Members conducted a tour of Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), a non-profit organisation whose primary objective is to reverse the decline of seabird populations through the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of ill, injured, abandoned, and oiled seabirds. Algoa Bay is home to approximately 60% of South Africa’s endangered African penguin population, however diminishing fish stocks have led to its rapid decline, with only 1000 breeding pairs left on the island of St Croix, a 90% decrease from 10 years ago where it used to be the biggest breeding colony if African penguins. Here the Members were inducted on the negative impacts of environmentally irresponsible practices and climate change on biodiversity, and the subsequent impacts on the broader ecosystem and ecosystem services which threaten livelihoods and human health.
This was followed by a briefing by Sustainable Seas Trust, a non-profit organisation that supports and connects communities across Africa through research, education, enterprise development and growing awareness about ocean conservation and plastic pollution. They also build networks for sharing information and support focused on waste management, bringing together local and international stakeholders to manage the issues of plastic waste in Africa. The briefing was focused on the priorities for South Africa on contributing towards SST’s mission of Zero Plastics to the Seas of Africa, with a particular emphasis on the need for enabling legislation and collaboration at all levels of government to tackle plastic pollution and climate change.
The Members also experienced a boat trip around Algoa Bay, facilitated by Stampede Cruises, where they were briefed on the most prominent environmental issues currently threatening the Bay, such as bunkering and plastic pollution, and the solutions they require. The trip was led by Professor Pichegru, an Adjunct Professor in Marine Biology at Nelson Mandela University whose research has focused on the impacts of anthropogenic changes in the marine environment, including industrial fishing and climatic changes. More recently, she started developing research projects on the impact of plastic and associated pollutants on the marine ecosystem. Prof Pichegru is also the coordinator for the proposed application to proclaim Algoa Bay/Alexandria Dunes as a Mixed-Use World Heritage Site.
The final briefing on ocean conservation and the complexities of seismic activity and sustainable development was delivered by Gary Koekemoer, convenor of the Algoa Bay Ocean Steward’s coalition and WESSA Algoa Bay branch chair and board member. The briefing covered the largest issues facing marine environments, from marine pollution to the need for coordinated ocean management. The briefing also emphasised why stewarding the deep sea is a complex challenge for governance but one which needs to be urgently addressed in order to ensure that sustainable development goals are met responsibly and without compromising ecological integrity of marine ecosystems.
The visit to NMB provided Members of SALE with the opportunity to explore the complexities of environmental issues facing marine environments as a result of plastic pollution, and with the opportunities to improve environmental governance and collaboration between legislators and stakeholders. The visit consolidated the forum and highlighted the need for decisive action to be taken to create a more sustainable global system.