"Without blue, there would be no green."
These words were spoken by Dr. Ben Ngubane, Sustainable Seas Trust (SST) Trustee, to the Global Ocean Forum at COP 17 on 3rd December, the day that SST officially launched SEA Pledge. SEA Pledge is an initiative that calls on individuals and businesses to set and achieve personal goals for ocean conservation and sustainability, as well as a reduction in their environmental footprint.
After a presentation by SST Director Dr. Tony Ribbink, four South African youths - Ella Addison, Amy Cuff, Prashna Buddan, and Luyanda Cele - carried a scroll bearing the SEA Pledge petition and resolution to the chairpersons of the Global Ocean Forum. It appeared projected on a screen while the youths read it out:
We, the children of the last generation that has the time to reverse climate change trends and sustain our beautiful seas, together with many others around the world who support the SEA Pledge crusade, petition the Global Ocean Forum to take action to sustain the seas and their life support processes. We ask the Global Ocean Forum to call upon the United Nations to declare an International Year of Oceans and Coasts. We urge the members of the Global Ocean Forum, the World Ocean Network, all of the distinguished participants of Ocean Day and all governments assembled at COP 17, especially the government of South Africa, to support Sea Pledge with a view to assisting impoverished coastal communities, particularly those in Africa.
Dr. Biliana Cicin-Sain, President of the Global Ocean Forum, accepted the resolution and made her own personal SEA Pledge on video. On behalf of the Global Ocean Forum, she vowed she would take the resolution on to the United Nations and support the call to declare an International Year of Oceans and Coasts. It has been 13 years since the UN last declared a year focusing on the marine environment, and today the need to continue bettering our understanding of the seas and marine life is an urgent one. As many speakers at the Global Ocean Forum indicated, we need to invest in ocean research and create new standards of care in order to combat climate change.
As the ceremony proceeded in Durban, all along the South African coast, between Sodwana and Saldanha, many people turned out on the beach despite poor weather to declare their support for SEA Pledge and encourage governments and major international organizations to commit to caring for the oceans and coasts.
Children and adults, individuals and organizations, these supporters took part in activities that included beach cleanups, boat outings, scuba diving trips, braais, indoor functions such as dinners, and some events that were even more out-of-the-box. In Hermanus, supporters gathered to build a giant "Handprint for Change" sand sculpture, while in Cape Town, Wavescape and Skeleton Sea painted a beautiful mural of a coelacanth. In Port Elizabeth, a penguin release drew a crowd, who watched with joy as the seven small birds waddled down the sand to freedom.
These events were not protests, but celebrations. They were calls for action by the parties at COP 17, but at the same time were simple reminders that the natural environment that the conference is aiming to conserve is a wondrous and beautiful place.
World governments have failed to achieve worthwhile results at COP 17, though the moment is urgent. For many years politicians failed to listen to scientists who informed them that fish stocks were being over-exploited, and the result is that certain fisheries have collapsed. The actions of all those involved in SEA Pledge are the way of the future: people cannot wait for indecisive leaders. Make a SEA Pledge today and make a concrete commitment to sustainability. And let your voices be heard - politicians must ultimately answer to the voters who elect them.
The buildup to the SEA Pledge launch at COP 17 began on 12th October when SST embarked on an 8 000 km road trip through coastal towns between Sodwana and Saldanha, raising awareness about SEA Pledge and seeking to hear the voices - ideas as well as concerns - of the people who live, work, and leisure in the coastal zone.
Traveling in two hybrid cars donated by Honda South Africa, the SST team presented 28 lectures, and met with mayors, clubs, businesses and schools. The response was enthusiastic. Mayors and other local leaders, schools, clubs, and environmental groups, took the pledge and committed to new environmental initiatives. A number of organizations that use the ocean came on board as SEA Pledge Ports. These Ports will be local partners in advocating for sustainability, encouraging members and customers to make a SEA Pledge while also developing and helping to gather funding for local environmental initiatives.
What SST learned on the trip is that many people are already 'converted' and are eager do something positive for the environment. SEA Pledge has given them a direction and has promoted action by helping them set targets and achieve goals. As SEA Pledge gains momentum, it will endeavour to reach beyond the converted and build support, awareness and commitment amongst people from all walks of life.
At the same time, SST will also working towards the establishment of several Sustainable Education and Skills (SEAS) Centres for Employment. SEAS Centres will be green buildings located in coastal communities. Their focus will be on equipping local impoverished residents with valuable skills, helping them achieve pride in employment and mitigating their need to damage the marine environment through unsustainable practices. Supporters who make an online donation as part of a SEA Pledge may choose to direct their donation specifically towards the development of SEAS Centres.
As of the launch at COP 17, citizens of 29 countries around the world had made a personal SEA Pledge. Click here to view the map (www.sst.org.za/map) and see who has made a Pledge in your area. You could be the first person in your community - or even your country - to mark your commitment to the environment, or you could join the Business or Schools Challenge and compete with other local business or schools. Come up with the best Pledge, set and achieve your goals, and you could win recognition for your efforts.