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Youth and Ocean are inseparable

  • Besides being educated, energetic, curious and robust, youths must also pay attention to the environment around us, which is so critical and fast changing.

By Ravindran Raman Kutty

A gathering of young minds, were keen in finding solutions to the issues affecting our oceans. Oceans though there are seven, they are all connected. Youths from Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Yemen, China and Malaysia were congregating at a brand-new hotel in Melaka to address a serious issue, which is often overlooked.

Ocean pollution from plastics, sewerage, dangerous sludge from factories, power plants and agricultural waste was discussed throughout the 4-day international conference themed “Youth, Ocean and SDG14” with paper presenters from UNIDO, UNESCO, University Malaya, University Science Malaysia, Maldives Ambassador, Malaysian Nature Society and MeshMinds Foundation. The 4-day event ended with a beach cleansing exercise at the Jeti Nelayan, Pantai Siring, Merlimau, Melaka.

Among the issue discussed was how tourism industry has affected the oceans of Bali. The high content of plastics in the sea bed of Bali has resulted in a serious issue faced by the sea habitats in Bali. On the other hand, the sea beds of Maldives are reasonably clean as the government is extremely cautious and sensitive to both tourism and fishing industry. Tourism is the number one revenue earner for Maldives followed by fishing. Maldives has also a unique way of catching blue fin tuna from their rich ocean which does not use fishing nets. This helps in sustaining the blue fin tunas.

The Capacity Building session by Dr Norlaila Mohd Zanuri, from the Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies, USM emphasised on how the youths can play an important role in reporting any crisis around the ocean and how they could be the whistle blowers for their respective governments. Youths must play a pivotal role in alerting the authorities and do not play ignorant on any matters with regards to ocean pollution.

Acidification of sea water by the power plants was also discussed. The large amount of water discharge from the power plant to the ocean causes a severe damage to the corals and the planktons thus weakening the whole ecosystems of the ocean habitats. Once the corals are affected, the habitats around it including the fishes are drastically affected causing the drastic elimination of the whole marine ecosystems. One-quarter of all ocean species depends on reef for food and shelter although corals are 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.

Coral reefs are also very important to people. The value of coral reefs has been estimated at US$30 billion and perhaps as much as US$172 billion each year, providing food, protection of shorelines, jobs based on tourism, and even medicines.

Unfortunately, human are the greatest threat to coral reefs. Overfishing and destructive methods of fishing, pollution, 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, reefs today are a pale shadow of what they once were.

Dr Sahadev Sharma from University Malaya spoke on the importance of Mangroves and we have lost more than 30-50% of the 13-15 million hectares of mangroves worldwide. Malaysia is the third largest nation in the world with mangroves and our Matang Forest Reserve, Perak and Sabah mangroves are excellent case in point of preservation. Mangroves play a critical role in balancing the ocean habitats and they help to multiply the fishes, crustaceans and all forms of water and land based living beings. Mangroves are also a wonderful natural protector of calamities such as Tsunami as they help to moderate the rising sea and especially the waves. Mangroves also prevent salt water from entering into our rivers. Unfortunately, there is no one international agency which does serious work on mangroves as to ensure its sustainability.

Over the last 50 years we have made our oceans “sick” by “dumping animal-choking plastic garbage, fishing gears, ghost gears, and toxic chemicals into our oceans threatening the extinction of entire ecosystems in our lifetime.

With 8 million tons of plastic entering the ocean each year, a transition from a linear system to a circular system where plastics never become waste should be intensified.  According to Forbes, currently only 9 percent of the global economy is circular — meaning that only 9 percent of the 92.8 billion tons of minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass that enter the economy are re-used annually.

Over the last 3 years many countries have started to ban plastics. This is a good first step. But even if every country were to ban plastic bags it would not make much of a difference, since plastic bags make up less than 0.8 per cent  of the mass of plastic currently afloat on the world’s oceans.

This is because 70 per cent of all plastics floating on oceans today – about 190,000 tonnes – come from fisheries, with buoys, fishing gears, ghost gears and lines making up the majority. While doing beach cleansing at Pantai Siring, Merlimau, I saw many fishing nets left on the beach and when checked with the fisherman, they said that they left it as the local authority does not help to clean the fishing nets. The conference delegates with the help of the SM Gajah Berang,managed to collect 87kg of waste comprising of fishing net, plastic cups, cigarette buts, cans, card box and other perishable waste from the Pantai Siring fishing village beachfront.

With nearly 350 million metric tons of new plastic products produced every year, beach clean ups alone aren’t going to solve the problem. The broader goal of this conference was to provide young people with the necessary tools on how to stop waste from entering the seas and oceans.

Forty percent of the earth’s population is youth – they are not a drop in the ocean– They are the mighty ocean. The future generation will bear the brunt of the problem and as such you cannot wriggle your way out. In a world where we have created smart phones, smart cities and smart trains, where we use artificial intelligence to fix everything, let’s use our natural intelligence to fix our surroundings.

The ocean holds 96.5 per cent of all of earth’s water, but less than 1 per cent is freshwater and available for human consumption. Rising ocean temperatures affect the marine ecosystems, threatening food security, increasing the prevalence of diseases and causing extreme weather events and the 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. They warned that as plastic attracts toxins in the environment; these poisons could be released into people’s bodies when they ate the fish especially from the plastics found included nylon, polystyrene and polyethylene.

Youth and our environment especially the ocean is inseparable. It is the responsibility of all the parties’ i.e. local authorities, government, media, local community, schools, universities and international agencies like the UN and the local Non-Governmental Organisations to consolidate and carry out programs like beach cleansing and also voicing out their concerns on any issues concerning environmental pollution.

The recent toxic plastics waste into our waters is a classic case of what the youths can do and what they failed in doing. There was no organised protest to counter such dangerous activities of our businessman who are overzealous and selfish in bringing such undesirable waste into our nation and causing so much discomfort for the local people and our government. Youths besides being educated, energetic, curious, robust must also pay attention to the environment. The environment around us is so critical and fast changing. Let’s monitor and watch the changes and stop any negative changes that will jeopardise our future.

(Ravindran Raman Kutty is an active social worker.)


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