African Marine Debris Summit 2015

Robin Fokker
12 June 2015



NVT at the African Marine Debris Summit

The Second African Marine Debris summit, took place from Thursday 2nd until Friday the 5th of June 2015. The Nature’s Valley Trust team, including Mark, Minke and Robin, were invited and sponsored to attend and to present the various projects that the Nature’s Valley Trust is working on at the moment.

The first presentations were about the current issues regarding Marine debris in Africa and the rest of the world, along with some possibilities for countering and preventing any future issues. The day started with an opening by Carmel Mbizvo, the chief director of SANBI, welcoming us all to the African Marine Debris summit. This was followed by a statement about the issues regarding Marine Debris by the deputy minister of Arts and Culture, Rejoice Mabudafhasi. While Ms Mabudafhasi is no longer involved with environmental affairs, her passion about this subject remains strong still, and while nobody really knew what to expect, we were all pleasantly surprised by the inspiring and, in some cases, humorous statements by the deputy minister. After the Deputy Minister, Rowan Le Roux and Heidi Savelli, of the SA sustainability council and the Global Partnership on Marine Litter continued with several statements about the current state of marine litter and the problems the world is facing if the issues regarding marine litter keep growing.

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Deputy minister of Arts and Culture, the honorable Rejoice Mabudafhasi

After the opening presentation and a quick meal, which was very well prepared by the catering organized by SANBI, Prof. Peter Ryan of the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute for African Ornithology started with the first scientific presentation of the day. His presentation had as topic the state of marine debris in Africa and showed several papers about previously conducted research about the topic, together with some of his own results. He also discussed several research methodologies to enhance any future research on the subject in the hope that with this, the problem of marine litter can be dealt with sooner. This presentation was followed by the presentation by Charles Muller, who told us the different kinds of plastic and which ones form the greatest threat. A very surprising presentation as Charles is the executive director of Packaging SA, and with this shows great enthusiasm about changing his own company to better the environment.


Prof Peter Ryan, who supervises some NVT postgrads, presenting on the state of marine debris in Africa

After these first presentations, Karin Minnaar and Dr. Holly Nel continued with presentations about their projects involving plastic debris beached on coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and a quantitative analysis of micro plastic pollution along the south eastern coastline of South Africa. Both these presentations agreed with the presentation by Peter Ryan in terms of the methodologies uses and proved to have very significant outcomes in ways of assessing the problem of marine litter.

After these presentations and a lunch, which was again well prepared by the catering organized by SANBI, Mark was handed the stage with his presentation about the marine debris projects that the Nature’s Valley Trust is currently involved in. All went well as the large majority of the audience seemed to agree in the methods that were used in collecting spatial beach litter and visitor data and quantifying the effects of litter on Kelp Gulls on the Plettenberg Bay peninsula, containing the largest Kelp Gull colony in South Africa. Mark focused on how NVT uses an integrated approach to tackle locally relevant conservation issues, through a combination of well designed ecological and socio-ecology research projects that filter into community conservation education programs that bring about behavioural change.  In the presentations that followed Mark’s, many of the presenters referred to Mark’s presentation as a good example and especially his statement being some really good and interesting ones.


Mark presenting on NVT's marine debris programs

Sheraine Van Wyk, Jude Bijoux and Katja Rockstroh concluded with the last three presentations about their own projects, involving monitoring cigarette butts on the beach, marine debris in Seychelles and the rehabilitation of turtles in South Africa after being affected by marine litter.

To conclude the day, all attendants of the conference were invited to dine aboard a large research vessel; the SA Agulhas II. While the food was very well made and everybody was very satisfied, the real high point of the evening came when everybody was allowed to have a look inside the bridge of the vessel, with an explanation of all the equipment by one of the crew members. With a very interesting view both inside the bridge and of Cape Town outside the bridge, the evening was truly complete.

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An evening on board the SA Agulhas II was a highlight!


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Cape Town at night, from the deck of the SA Agulhas II

The following Friday, a few presentations were still about the issues regarding Marine Debris, but were mainly focussing on the point of view of the industry that produces plastics and what their opinions were on the issue and the preventions and counteractions against current and future issues. While researchers and scientists were morally obligated to stay with their own statements, the presenters of this day did raise a couple of interesting points.

The first presenter, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Cristian Bonten, presented a general introduction on plastics, further explaining which of all plastics was most dangerous, why and how it is produced, followed by Douw Steyn, Michael Taylor and Annabé Pretorius, each explaining how their companies, the Plastics SA, International Affairs and Trade and the South African Plastic Recyclers Association, each contributed in the problem of marine litter, and how their companies have changed to do so.

Dr Tony Ribbink then gave a presentation about the Hope Spots along the South African coast being used to reduce waste and to spread knowledge of the threats of marine litter throughout the South African people, which was followed by Hayley McLellan and her campaign to ban the plastic shopping bag in South Africa, spreading her own made long-life shopping bag through the audience to stimulate the usage of recyclable bags. Chandre Rhoda then took over with her project about Integrated Catchment Management and how it has affected the areas in which she has worked. The day was then concluded by John Kieser by his feedback on the deliberations of day one, followed by the closing ceremonies.

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Tony Ribbink and John Kieser, two fabulous NVT partners

All in all, the African Marine Debris summit has been a great experience for the NVT team, and all three of us were very grateful for this great opportunity that showed the great many points of view by the different stakeholders in perhaps one of the greatest threats the world faces in this age, marine debris.