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Thursday, 07 June 2018

Beat oceans plastic

While most people tend to regard the oceans as fairly pristine, the reality is far different.
The CPUT Research Chair in Oceans Economy Prof Ken Findlay has seen first-hand just how much plastic pollution is in the ocean.

“When you encounter plastic in the mid-ocean, miles from land or in the Antarctic seas, then the problem of plastic pollution really shocks.” But plastic pollution is but one of many human influences on the world’s oceans.

“We all have had the terms sea level rise and global warming thrown at us. But, the reality is that the oceans absorb a great deal of the carbon that goes into the atmosphere and that becomes carbonic acid,” Findlay pointed out. (Carbon dioxide reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid and this causes the acidity of seawater to increase, affecting coral reefs negatively.)

Findlay tends to talk about the big five when discussing the negative influence humans have on oceans: “Illegal extraction or fishing is the first impact.
“Climate change and ocean acidification is the second, then pollution, habitat destruction and alien invasives.”

The last happens when a ship from another country pumps its ballast water into a new harbour. “It is not only microbes."
“The entire area of the South African coast, the rock mussels you see on the local seashore are probably European mussels and they came here by ship.
“These translocations have the potential to radically modify the ecosystem.”

He thinks people take the ocean for granted and only value the provisioning ecosystems (the ocean provides us with water and food) because they see the market value but they don’t necessarily identify the intangible values: “The walk on the beach, the ocean view, things which come for free. Even the air we breathe. One breath in three that you take comes from the ocean,” he pointed out.

Findlay’s research at the moment is concentrating heavily on marine spatial planning – mapping out who uses the ocean and how to resolve potential conflict when two or more sectors like fishing or mining want to use the same space.

His overall research into the oceans economies though also has to consider ocean health and using spatial models to evaluate whether particular activities affect the health of the ocean as a whole.

*Findlay will take part in a panel discussion after a public lecture by renowned toxicologist Prof Augustine Arukwe from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway on June 8, World Oceans Day. The lecture starts at 12 pm at the Saretec Building on the Bellville Campus.

Written by Theresa Smith

Email: smitht@cput.ac.za

Provides coverage for the Applied Sciences and Engineering Faculties and the Wellington Campus.