Turning The Tide

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Are you reducing your plastic usage? Refusing plastic straws and disposable plastic containers, choosing to carry baskets and reusable metal water bottles?
The UN has a five year agenda to get rid of single use plastics and microplastics found in toiletries. More than half the world’s countries have joined the #CleanSeas campaign since its launch in 2017. Kenya along with Rwanda in East Africa have been vanguard in stopping the use of plastic bags that were clogging up our rivers and suffocating marine life.
Individuals have been inspired to recycle and reuse plastics, to mobilise support groups and lobby governments. This has resulted in mass beach clean ups, regeneration of the once dying coral reefs along the Swahili shoreline and preservation of coastal mangrove forests in Lamu County – home to over 70% of East Africa’s mangroves.
Mangroves clean the water by housing bacteria and fungi that breakdown leaf litter which feeds a nursery of crustaceans and fish before these critters head for the coral reefs. They provide food for bigger fish, frogs, birds and even forests inland.
Land and sea are inextricably linked in strong and stunning ways. For example, birds feed on sea fish then nest in native forests inland, dropping their nitrogen rich guano to feed the forest floor and soil. Trees, through their respiration create rain, which washes this nitrogen into the rivers that flow back to the oceans and feed the zooplankton on which manta rays and whales amongst other marine animals, feed.
According to the UN, the tide is already beginning to turn. Nearly 90,000 people have taken the #CleanSeas pledge to eradicate single-use plastics and microbeads from their lives. From Bali to Panama, they are cleaning beaches, cataloguing what they find, and changing their own behaviour by, for example, using cloth bags and carrying steel cups or cutlery with them, refusing plastic straws and demanding the removal of plastic cups or single-use bottles from their offices.
The scale of the problem demands a global response. Every year, around 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans, poisoning our fish, birds and other sea creatures. That’s the equivalent of one garbage truck of litter being dumped into the sea every minute.
In Kenya, the Flipiflopi project built a 60-foot traditional dhow from plastic waste collected on the beaches of Lamu island to raise awareness along Africa’s eastern coast. This project was envisioned by Julie Church, founder of Ocean Sole – a company that collects flip flops from beaches and recycles them.
Coral reefs, home to young families of marine life, have a symbiotic relationship with the colourful algaes that cover them. Algaes cannot survive in cold water or very warm water. In ideal conditions, they produce carbohydrates for the coral polyps that house them; but under heat stress they produce toxic waste which makes the coral expel them, leading to coral “bleaching” and death to the reefs. Cyclones and heavy rainfall can also cause bleaching. Recent storms in the Indian Ocean were blamed on climate change and caused a prolonged drought in Kenya.
been regenerated through the sheer dedication of conservationists like Des Bowden who is a patron of Seas4Life. In 2017, United Nations Development Programme awarded Kuruwitu Conservation & Welfare Association the Equator Prize citing it as an outstanding example of nature based local solutions to sustainable development. Under the guidance of Des Bowden, Chairman of the Kuruwitu Association, healthy sustainable fisheries have been set up with the involvement of local communities who are proud conservationists and guardians of this heritage. The projects however are not yet self sustaining. The Uluguru mountain forests in Tanzania, are the sources of rivers that feed the towns of Morogoro and Dar-es-Salaam. Some years ago, in their midst was a heavily degraded area known as the Bunduki Gap. Clearing land for agriculture and firewood had left isolated forests with a small gene pool of rare flora and fauna, an increased risk of fires and further erosion. In 2009, funding from Scottish & Southern Energy enabled local people to collect seeds from the forest reserves, establish nurseries for seedlings and replant the trees to fill the gap. Eight years later in 2012 when World Land Trust trustee, Kevin Cox visited the Uluguru forest reserves he wrote “AS the mist cleared, the view unfolded. The Bunduki Gap is now fully cloaked in forest. A success for the people whose water source is now secured. Having planted the trees, they also have good cause to protect them.” Experience shows that advocating for change requires the individual, government policies, laws, procedures and entire cultures to lobby for change. Whilst the true dangers of microplastics – which have found their way into our soil, food and water – on our immune systems, hormones and organs is still being researched, plastic pollution has already shown to be hazardous to marine life. The last four years were the hottest on record with winter temperatures in the Arctic having risen by 3°C since 1990; this according to the United Nations. Sea levels are therefore rising, the polar caps melting, coral reefs dying, and we are starting to see the life-threatening impact of climate change on health, through air pollution, heatwaves and risks to food security through droughts, floods and the extinction rate of bees and other pollinating insects. We have 12 years to avert the catastrophe. If we act now we can reduce the rise in temperatures to the pre industrial era.


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