News » Talking plastic pollution in our oceans at National Marine Week 2019

Talking plastic pollution in our oceans at

National Marine Week 2019

 Yonela Sithole showing learners a SAIAB information pamphlet on ‘What is a Coelacanth?’ and explaining
SAIAB’s work in terms of preserving our natural heritage and particularly
the importance of SAIAB’s National Collection Facility.

With the aim of raising awareness around the importance of the ocean, National Marine Week was celebrated by a collaboration of various organisations at the Nelson Mandela University’s Ocean Sciences Campus from 8 to 11 October 2019. Thirteen organisations took part in Marine Week with 11 stands exhibiting displays that linked to raising awareness of; “The Harsh Realities of Plastics in our Oceans”, which was the theme for the year.

South Africa enjoys the benefit of a relatively large ocean environment next to its land territory. An interesting fact is that South Africa’s ocean space (Exclusive Economic Zone) is larger than its land area. It is comprised of the mainland EEZ (1,068,659 km2) and Prince Edward islands EEZ (466,879 km2) totalling 1,535,538 km2, while the land area is 1,220,000 km². Plastic pollution in our oceans is one of the most pressing environmental concerns facing the world today. Not only is plastic a threat to marine animals, but also humans who eat the marine animals. According to a campaign ran by Two Oceans Aquarium for a ‘plastic Free July’, “Right now there are more than 51 trillion pieces of microplastic in our oceans – that's more than 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy… and less than 14% of plastic produced is recycled, with the remaining 86% ending up in the ocean, environment or landfills.”

The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) and SAIAB based World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) interns joined in on the National Marine Week collaboration to raise awareness of plastic pollution in our oceans. As part of their internship, WWF interns are mandated to run an environmental outreach initiative and the interns based at SAIAB took this opportunity to exhibit aquatic related materials, to teach learners about recycling and promote environmental and ocean literacy.

The second display was led by two of SAIAB’s PhD research students, Yonela Sithole and Samantha Ockhuis who themed their stand ‘From the ocean to the Collections’. Their display showcased some of SAIAB’s wet and dry curated specimen which have always been very interactive and a success with learners wanting to find out more about water-based research. They also extended their display to introduce learners to genetics and taxonomy careers, and shared their experience of having been on research expeditions. While the WWF-SAIAB interns had an interactive exhibition which reminded learners about the water cycle, teaching them about the importance of water, explored aquatic related careers, and introduced learners to practical ideas about recycling disposable materials as well as promoting WWF-SASSI’s sustainable sea food.

WWF SAIAB based interns Lucky Dlamini, Tholoana Ntokoane and Vuyo Mxo after
setting up their exhibition display.

Vuyo Mxo engages learners on creative ways to recycle disposable materials.


Samantha Ockhuis explaining the importance of DNA analysis and how it is used to identify fish.

National Marine Week is celebrated every year during the second week of October, and as custodian of the marine resources in South Africa, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is the lead driver for National Marine Week. Its purpose is to create awareness of the marine and coastal environment, the promotion of sustainable use and conservation of these resources, for the benefit of all both present and future generations. Marine Week at Nelson Mandela Bay was well celebrated with 475 learners and 17 educators who got the opportunity to explore various exhibits, displays and partake in activities to learn more about marine careers, marine research, estuaries, plastic pollution and recycling, penguins and the threats faced by marine animals in Algoa Bay and what we can do to protect our oceans.

Yonela Sithole presenting to learners an example of SAIAB’s wet collection specimen.

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