Dr. Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor at the University of Georgia and expert in ocean plastic pollution, shared her insights with a packed audience at the Civic Auditorium in Hermanus on Monday evening, 17 July 2017 by delivering a talk titled “Impacts of Marine Waste”.

In South Africa to speak at the African Marine Waste Network Conference, organised by the Sustainable Seas Trust (SST) that was held in Port Elizabeth last week, the presentation formed the second of a series done by Dr Jambeck during her US State Department sponsored visit to the country.

The address focussed on the impact of the enormous amount of plastic waste entering the world’s oceans on a daily basis. A key point included the fact that plastics being non bio-degradable, break down into ‘microplastics’ that either float or sink to the seabed; the latter creating huge ‘plastic patches’ in the ocean.

Ingested by marine animals, microplastics are becoming an insidious part of the marine food-chain.

Whilst paying compliment to the Overstrand for its recycling bins and the cleanliness of the beaches she visited earlier in the day, Dr Jambeck nevertheless cited local research that is finding microplastics in the stomachs of marine animals in the area.

The talk was opened by Dr Tony Ribbink of the SST with a short presentation and introduction to the newly formed African Marine Waste Network.  Dr Ribbink also heads up South Africa’s Hope Spots – of which the Cape Whale Coast that stretches from Rooi Els to Quin Point is one.

Caption: Shirley Mgoboza, a Whale Coast Conservation (WCC) Youth Environmental Programme Coordinator, seen manning a stand at the Marine Waste Pollution event on Monday evening, 17 July

Also on the programme were Overstrand’s Manager of Solid Waste, Johan van Taak and Senior Environmental Manager, Liezl Bezuidenhout, who afforded further insight on the dangers and negative impact of plastic bags on the environment and the ocean in the delivery of their respective presentations named “Re-Think the Bag” and “Cape Whale Coast – The Hot Spot”.

Caption: Whale Coast Conservation (WCC) displays a dish of plastic sushi to demonstrate how microplastics ingested by marine animals could find its way further up the food chain and eventually end up on our plates.

While emphasis was placed on the relative marine health the country’s Hope Spots indicate, and the motivation that it has provided for the formation of the African Marine Waste Network, the overall message of the evening was clear: ‘the alarming increase of plastic entering into our oceans is a global problem that needs a global solution.’

On a local level, we can make a difference through our consumer choices and by putting pressure on businesses and retailers to dispense with single-use plastics (such as plastic shopping bags and straws).

With the view of getting involved on a global level, Dr Jambeck introduced attendees to the ‘Marine Debris Tracker’ App which she helped co-develop.  Thus far the App has been used to document the location of over a million marine debris items throughout the world and forms part of developing an in-depth understanding of how trash travels to, and around, the world’s oceans. To learn about the App and how to contribute in the exercise,
click on https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=edu.uga.engr.geolog.marinedebristrack&hl=en.


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