Beach clean-ups alone are not going to solve marine pollution. Young people with the necessary tools must be taught to stop waste from entering the seas and oceans.
--fotoBERNAMA (2019) COPYRIGHTS RESERVED
By Ravindran Raman Kutty
The writer Ravindran Raman Kutty is an award-winning communications practitioner and a fellow of the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- Last month, about 80 youths from various countries came together to address a serious issue which is often overlooked, namely marine pollution.
Coming from the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Yemen, China and Malaysia, the youths held discussions to find solutions to ocean issues pertaining to marine pollution.
They were participating in the International Conference on Youth, Ocean and SDG14 that was held at a hotel in Melaka from July 1 to 5 and was organised by World Youth Foundation, a non-governmental organisation associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information.
(The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal or SDG 14 refers to the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources.)
The four-day conference saw papers being presented by the representatives of United Nations Industrial Development Organisation; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation; Universiti Malaya (UM); Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM); Malaysian Nature Society; and MeshMinds Foundation.
The event ended with a beach cleaning exercise at the fishermen's jetty at Pantai Siring in Merlimau, Melaka.
Plastics, sewerage and agricultural waste, as well as toxic sludge from factories and power plants, are being dumped into our oceans.
At the conference, among the issues that came up for discussion was the pollution of the sea off Bali, Indonesia. The huge amount of plastic wastes lying on the seabed over there is affecting marine habitats.
On the other hand, the seabeds off the Maldives are reasonably clean as the government is extremely cautious and keeps a check on the activities of both the tourism and fishing industries
Tourism is the number one revenue earner for the Maldives, followed by fishing. Maldives fishermen also have a unique way of catching bluefin tuna from their rich ocean, which does not entail the use of fishing nets. This has helped to sustain its bluefin tuna population.
During the Capacity Building session by USM Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies' Dr Norlaila Mohd Zanuri, she emphasised how youths can play an important role in reporting any crisis taking place around the oceans and how they can be the whistleblowers for their respective governments. Youths must play a pivotal role in alerting the authorities.
Acidification of sea water by power plants was also discussed. The large amount of water discharged from power plants into the ocean is causing severe damage to the corals and planktons, thus weakening the whole ecosystems of ocean habitats.
Once the corals are affected, the habitats around them including the fishes are drastically affected causing the elimination of the whole marine ecosystem.
One-quarter of all ocean species depend on reefs for food and shelter although corals only make up a tiny fraction (less than one percent) of the earth’s surface and less than two percent of the ocean bottom. Because they are so diverse, coral reefs are often called the rainforests of the sea.
Unfortunately, humans are the greatest threat to coral reefs. Overfishing and destructive methods of fishing, as well as pollution, global warming, changing ocean chemistry and invasive species, are all taking a huge toll. In some places, reefs have been entirely destroyed and in many places today, reefs are a pale shadow of what they once were.
UM's Dr Sahadev Sharma spoke on the importance of mangroves. Worldwide, 30 to 50 percent of the 13 million to 15 million hectares of mangroves have gone.
Malaysia is the third-largest mangrove-holding country in the world and our Matang Forest Reserve in Perak and the mangroves of Sabah are excellent cases in point where their preservation is concerned.
Mangroves play a critical role in balancing ocean habitats and they help fishes and crustaceans to multiply. Mangroves also protect us against calamities such as tsunamis as they help to moderate the rising sea level and especially the waves.
Mangroves also prevent salt water from entering our rivers. Unfortunately, there is no one international agency which does serious work on mangroves so as to ensure their sustainability.
With eight million tonnes of plastic waste entering our oceans each year, nations should hasten their transition to the circular economic system which is aimed at minimising waste and making the most of resources.
According to Forbes, currently only nine percent of the global economy is circular? -- this means that only nine percent of the 92.8 billion tonnes of minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass entering the economy are reused annually.
Over the last three years, many countries have started to ban the use of plastic bags. This is a good first step. But even if every country were to ban plastic bags it would not make much of a difference as plastic bags make up less than 0.8 percent of the mass of plastic items that currently float on the world’s oceans.
Seventy percent of the plastic items found floating on oceans today – about 190,000 tonnes – come from fisheries, with buoys, fishing gear, ghost gear and lines making up the majority.
Whilst cleaning up the beach at Pantai Siring after the conference recently, I saw many fishing nets left on the beach and when asked, the fishermen said they left them there as the local authority does not help to clean the nets.
The conference delegates, with the help of students from Sekolah Menangah Gajah Berang, managed to collect 87 kilogrammes of waste comprising fishing nets, plastic cups, cigarette butts, cans, cardboard boxes and other perishable items from Pantai Siring.
With nearly 350 million tonnes of new plastic products produced every year, beach clean-ups alone are not going to solve the problem. The broader goal of this conference was to provide young people with the necessary tools to stop waste from entering the seas and oceans.
Forty percent of the earth’s population is made up of youths. A drop in the ocean they certainly are not. Their numbers, in fact, make them as mighty as the ocean itself.
If marine pollution issues are left unresolved, it is the future generation that will have to bear the brunt. In a world where we have created smartphones, smart cities and smart trains and where we use artificial intelligence to fix everything, let’s use our natural intelligence to fix our surroundings.
Rising ocean temperatures are affecting the marine ecosystems, threatening food security, increasing the prevalence of diseases and causing extreme weather events and loss of coastal protection.
Plastic micro-particles are getting into the flesh of fish eaten by humans, according to a new study. A team of scientists from Malaysia and France discovered a total of 36 tiny pieces of plastic in the bodies of 120 mackerel, anchovies, mullets and croakers.
The scientists warned that as plastic attracts toxins in the environment, these poisons can be released into people’s bodies when they eat the fish.
Being educated, energetic, curious and robust, youths should pay more attention to the environment. The environment around us is so critical but it is changing fast. Let us monitor and watch the changes taking place and put a stop to those that will jeopardise our future.
(The views expressed in this commentary are the writer's own.)
Edited by Rema Nambiar