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Take action today and see how far it will ripple

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We have all found ourselves admiring the beauty of the oceans and their marine wildlife, whether it’s with our own eyes or while watching our favourite documentary on television.

Healthy oceans are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe. They also provide a staggering economic contribution that’s worth trillions of dollars a year. They give us food, transportation and energy, and they even help to regulate our climate and provide us with important cultural services, such as recreation. It seems wise for us to reap these benefits but the question remains: how willing are people to return the favour?

On June 8 each year, people across the globe celebrate World Oceans Day to highlight the importance of protecting these natural resources. We will hear of the threats facing marine wildlife, and it’s often overwhelming. 

Rather than getting lost in the numbers, an important next step is for all of us to take action. When we really start to look, we can find many small seeds of hope in our everyday actions, and it is when we come together that these seeds grow bigger and stronger, helping us to achieve the United Nations’ 14th Sustainable Development Goal for “life below water”.

The most surprising thing I’ve found is that taking action looks different to everyone, and it always starts with you making the first move. Your unique voices, your creative thoughts and your actions will help us to spread the word about protecting our oceans. 

My own experience of taking action starts with my career as a marine biologist. We use DNA-based tools to describe marine wildlife in Southern Africa. It’s sometimes difficult to explain genetics, and I’m always telling people that it’s not just a boring school subject. To inspire people, I made a comic to illustrate my work and I was blown away by the reaction online.

Hundreds of teachers contacted me from all corners of the world to request a copy for their classrooms, and it’s since been translated into many different languages. This was a simple action that had a widespread effect. These teachers reinforced my notion that people take action (even for genetics) if they’re given the right tools.

Now shift your gaze away from the classroom towards the villages of Kenya, where coastal mangrove forests stretch across the country. When I first learned about mangroves, I thought they were magical — they are trees that can live and thrive in seawater. Below the surface, the intertwined roots provide an aquatic habitat for young marine animals, and above the water, the branches and leaves bask in the sun. 

Mangrove trees are magical but they’re also under threat. Their wood is a useful building material so it’s often cut down or cleared for “more desirable” coastal developments. In Kenya, 20% of mangroves have disappeared in the past 30 years.

I was lucky enough to once work for a community of forward-thinking Kenyans who have come together to protect their mangroves in a community-led project known as Mikoko Pamoja, which translates to “mangroves together”. 

The local people protect their mangrove forests from deforestation and, as the trees grow, they safely store carbon in the forest biomass and surrounding mud. Mikoko Pamoja then generates an income from this carbon storage, by selling carbon credits in the carbon market.

Their actions have now led to multi-layered benefits: the local coastline is protected and the people are developing their education, healthcare and water resources through the money generated.

If you’re not sure how you can take action in your own life, take inspiration from the internet, where even the UN has released The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving The World

For the oceans, a great place to start is to target pollution, whether by reducing your plastic consumption or joining a beach clean-up or writing to authorities.

You could also join the UN’s Decade of Action by sharing your actions, using the hashtag #WorldOceansDay, on social media. 

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Molly Czachur
Molly Czachur is a PhD student in the evolutionary genomics group in the department of botany and zoology at Stellenbosch University

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