If there were no oceans, there would be no life on earth. All of our rain comes from the ocean – no oceans, no rain. No rain, no forests, no crops, no anything …
These are the words of lecturer in UKZN’s School of Life Sciences, Dr David Glassom, who was speaking at a World Oceans Day event arranged by Marine PhD candidate and founder of the Refilwe Matlotlo environmental organisation, Ms Refilwe Mofokeng.
‘We depend on the ocean for about 50 percent of the oxygen that we breathe,’ said Glassom.
‘Half a billion people depend directly for their food or their livelihoods on coral reefs – that’s one in every 14 people on earth. So when people tell you about climate change – don’t think about the polar bears. Think about the people who will suffer.
‘We are changing the climate faster than it has ever changed in more than 200 million years,’ he said.
Glassom encouraged school learners and UKZN students to be activists. ‘Biologists can tell you about climate change. But only politicians and economists can stop it by changing their policies.
‘The best thing that you can do to help stop climate change is be an activist – go and lobby your government and your businesses to be more climate friendly. That will do more good than turning off your lights at night or not drinking bottled water.’
Mofokeng, who specialises in pollution, said the event, attended by Grade 11 learners, was hosted in conjunction with 20 other universities who marked World Oceans Day by taking action. She emphasised the importance of teaching others with the day’s events including a harbour clean up and demonstrations on how scientists test the waters in Durban for pollution and toxicity levels.
UKZN postgraduate student Mr Babs Adeleke, who explored ocean acidification and the repercussions for life on earth, said industrialisation contributed to the acidification of the ocean. ‘Every chimney of every factory that you see is releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Learners and UKZN students suggested ways everyone could contribute, including walking to work, buying less processed goods and using renewable energy.
UKZN doctoral candidate Mrs Christine Onyango spoke on coral and its role in the ecosystem, while Dr Tshoanelo Miya, who holds a PhD in Ichthyology, examined the various aquatic environments and the importance of balancing ecosystems.
Durban Youth Council members comprising Grade 11 learners posed questions, including the impact of the United States pulling out of the Paris Climate accords.
The Mayor of the Durban Youth Council, Ms Ruth Thumbi, a Grade 11 learner at Durban Girls’ College, emphasised the importance of the youth getting on board with climate change. ‘At the end of the day, we are the generation that is going to be impacted by these issues, that is a burden we will have to bear.’
Mofokeng hosts a monthly clean up at the Durban harbour. The initiative is supported by UKZN, John Dory at Wilson’s Wharf, the Bat Centre, the Royal Natal Yacht Club and Spur.
Refilwe is keen to involve more school learners in future projects. Those wanting to #GetInvolved, or learn more about how to make a difference should visit the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/www.GetInvolved.net/ or phone her on 079 443 4585.
Photographs by Refilwe Mofokeng and Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer