October is South Africa's official Marine Month - a period during which officials create awareness of South Africa's marine and coastal environments and the benefits that our oceans bring to the nation. It is a time when we all need to look at the impacts of what we do and how it affects the oceans around us - but also to change what we do.
Marine Month also gives us time to pause and understand where we are as a nation. Our oceans (the Atlantic and Indian) play a much larger role on our economy that we really appreciate, but they also face extreme threats and challenges that will need to be addressed in real-terms at national and individual level.
On a national level, our Department of Sea Fisheries has for the past five years, been unable (or unwilling) to patrol our coastal fishing zones because of beurocratic bumbling. Our patrol fleet remains tied-up at Simonstown while the Department argues and deliberates past and future contracts for thi spurpose. All the time, our fish stocks are being plundered and eroded by foreign fleets and our single-most important source of food for many communities declines.
Coastal areas are developed without full understanding of the impacts such development has on the oceans, and waste from manufacturing and agricultural activities pollutes even greater stretches of coastline daily. There is a singular lack of urgency to address many of the challenges we face at national level, and unless we call our representatives to answer for their inactivity, we will live with the consequences for generations to come.
But, as already mentioned, this is a problem for each one of us. We need to appreciate the impacts that our activities have on the oceans aropund us - even when we live far inland, and make changes to the things we do. Often, a disjoint exists between rivers and the oceans in our minds, and we forget that what lands in inland water bodies eventually enters the sea. Cleaning-up our inland sources - and limiting pollution and poisons entering these precious resources, will add value to our oceans, and we can influence the outcomes of this process by simply changing how we see water, our ecosystems and the oceans themselves as an integrated whole.
This month as we are reminded of the important role played by our oceans, take a moment to think about your own role in the greater scheme. What can you change - and more importantly, how will you start that change this month?