During the Covid-19 induced lockdown in South Africa, I was, like many I should imagine, spending a lot of time on social media. I came across an article that had been turned into a set of graphics. The first graphic, much like the front cover of a magazine, read: "Don't read this."
Naturally, I continued reading.
This got me thinking about us, humanity, and how we resist pressure to do or believe something. How we want to be autonomous and make our own choices and when the pressure is reduced any internal resistance is dissolved.
As someone who has been campaigning for the oceans for a few years now, this sparked something in me.
Maybe us whale huggers (for the record - not literally - ever) have been doing it wrong all along?
We have spent so much time trying to advocate, spread awareness and educate people about why we need a healthy planet. If those messages truly resonated, if people understood why and how they could look after the planet, surely the land and sea would be thriving and resilient against everything we throw at it?
Instead, we are entering into the 6th extinction crisis and need to urgently make a shift from what needs to be done to how it can be done.
So in this vein, at the end of September. the organisation I work for, Wildtrust, launched a campaign - " under the (@oceanimpactsa) project banner, advocating for advanced protection of the oceans around South Africa within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - currently sitting at 5%. Yes, five.
WATCH | Save the oceans to save ourselves- humanity's challenge
The truth is that people are selfish, and we don't like we need our oceans.
Covid-19 certainly made people question their relationship with nature, but I do not believe it made people care less about themselves and more about the planet.
So how do we, an environmental organisation, tell our beautifully diverse South African people (and the world) about our oceans and the need to protect them?
How do we deliver a message that resonates for people, that gets their attention?
How do we make them active citizens that demand a better future for their children and themselves?
How do we help our government see the importance of ocean protection for our people, not to mention all the economic benefits additional protection will bring?
We show you a South Africa without our oceans.
'Of course we do'
In the case of the "we don't need our oceans" messaging, the hope is that when this is presented as acceptable, it is likely to cause the response - "Of course we do!"
Our oceans are as diverse as we are, as South African and we need to build a patriotic pride for them that sees us all taking steps, no matter how small, to keep them healthy and protect them.
MPAs are a key tool to do this.
This campaign hopes to simplify the science of MPAs and reach all South Africans through online content in multiple languages, delivered by individuals, that our people from all walks of life and cultures will be able to relate to.
We hope to place a spotlight on just how much we depend on the ocean and to inspire action and behaviour change while asking our decision-makers to increase protection from 5% to 10%, with urgency, ultimately paving the way for African states to support a global target of what science tells us we need - at least 30% fully protected ocean space by 2030.
We take our oceans for granted. They are overfished, full of our trash, exploited, packed full of noisy vessels, explored with seismic blasts, drilled and their reefs damaged and destroyed.
At most, we have 10 years to stay below the 1.5C heating threshold for the planet and avoid the existential risks to nature and people that crossing it will bring.
We are already seeing starkly white-bleached dead coral reefs and catastrophic storms and surges caused by this. Yes, 10 years.
Not 100, but 10 - that means in our lifetime, and I do not need to explain what that means for the generations after us.
READ | Magical photos that will make you want to protect our oceans
There is also pushback with regards to enforcement and effective management.
If we cannot fully protect the 5% we do have, why expand? In my mind this is a good problem to have, especially considering the urgency surrounding our ocean crisis. Let's get the protection in place at the same time as working on effectiveness.
Some might say this campaign is adding further anxiety and feelings of hopelessness that are rife in our country right now, but I feel like the time for 'blue-washing' is gone.
If we keep pretending everything is under control and that protecting 5% is enough, it will stay that way.
If as human beings we do not grasp the reality of our oceans dying and the impact it will have on us, will we take action to curb the ocean abuse? That said, the situation is far from hopeless and even a simple action, like refusing single-use plastics, makes a difference, and a shift from 5% to 10% protection in South Africa's waters will see massive benefits for our country.
So, let's talk numbers.
According to the 2014 'State of the Ocean and Coasts Report' the direct value of the marine ecotourism sector to the South African economy was estimated at R400 million and its indirect value at more than R2 billion. The combined economic benefits from coastal resources are estimated to be around 35% of South Africa's annual GDP.
In South Africa fisheries provide livelihoods for more than 100 000 people and in Africa, the fishing and marine food sector employ more than 12 million people.
Penguin Tourism at Boulders in Cape Town (within a MPA) was estimated to contribute around R14.5 million in 2010.
In 2014 the value of diving at iSimangaliso was estimated to be over R75 million and more than R12 million at Aliwal Shoal in 2009 - both MPAs.
These two sites alone bring in over 100 000 divers annually and are integral to community development. Our Sardine Run Eco-tourism coupled with boats and tours are estimated to be worth more than R5.4 million.
Protecting our oceans and the wonderfully complex web of life that lies below the surface is being recognised as a fundamental human right. You can help us move the dial to 10%, which is a minimum global target that other developing countries are achieving right now - let us not allow our beautiful country to fall behind.