As a child, I used to marvel at the sight of the ocean. I still do. Running back and forth between the waves and the shore was, and still is, one of the great pleasures anyone could wish for. But for many of us, we know more of what happens in the heavens than what goes on below the waves. What secrets lay hidden in those mysterious waters, in those dense groves of the kelp forests? What creatures move in the turbulent waters that sparked many a legend of which we still hear today?

Perhaps the recently-released and hugely popular South African movie “My Octopus Teacher” will spark a renewed fascination in the rich biodiversity off our coastlines – some of which is under threat.  May this beautiful story remind us of how important it is to protect the ecosystem that’s vital to the creatures living down there. South Africa’s marine life attracts a significant number of international tourists, from boat trips to Seal Island to the brave shark-cage divers, deep-sea line fishing, and scuba diving. It’s a resource we have to protect – it’s imperative we protect it.

We have a responsibility to protect the rich biodiversity that lies below the waves.

The magnificent photographs people take while exploring the reefs reveal the bright, colourful and diverse sea life lying right off our coastlines. We follow the journeys of the magnificent whales, marvel as they return year after year to give birth in the safety of our bays, watch the pods of frolicking dolphins, encounter the agile octopus, the charming African penguins and the playful sea-otters. But what are we doing to protect the lives within our oceans?

Protecting a resource that could be extinct in less than two generations, perhaps three.

The creatures of the deep are being hunted for their value on the world’s black markets. Whales, sharks, fish and many others are targeted. We as humans overuse a resource that may be pushed from endangered levels to extinction because of our greed. As the global population continues to grow, so too does the need for food, including nutrient-rich seafood. But how can we protect a resource that in all probability could be extinct in less than two generations, perhaps three at most?

Remove a key link of the food chain, and it will collapse.

Each year, at the very least, 100 million sharks are killed – and for what? Because their fins are sold for $1100 per kilo! The only part harvested during this type of hunting is the fin which is then used in shark fin soup – a status symbol in some cultures across the globe. Shark finning is the horrific practice of removing the fins from the animal; the body is then thrown back into the water. This, together with shark hunting, has major ecological repercussions. The ripple effect of it can disrupt the ocean ecosystems to the point of collapse. Remove a key link of the food chain, and it will collapse.

Each year, at the very least, 100 million sharks are killed for their fins.

Whale hunting (or whaling) has been practiced since prehistoric times, gaining popularity during the Industrial Era. Whale oil was in high demand in the 19th Century as it was used for light and the making of soap. Later, in the 20th century the uses included the making of margarine and baleen whales were a major source of oil. The bowhead whale and southern right whale were considered the ideal whaling targets. They are easy to catch and have been hunted nearly to extinction. The International Whaling Commission is the global body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling. It was formed in 1946 and currently has 88 member countries. In 1982, it imposed an indefinite ban on whaling, which is still in place. But Japan has withdrawn, and Norway and Iceland continue to hunt whales commercially in objection to the ban.

Who will step up to the plate and stop the extinction of life beneath our waters?

The oceans are being overfished to provide food. In South Africa alone, 312 million kilograms are consumed every year. Many species are under threat. The South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) publishes a list annually of the endangered status of all our seafood. Be a responsible seafood consumer and check the list every year. Then, buy or order in restaurants only the types that are sustainable.

Luckily there are organizations working against the illegal hunting of whales and sharks and fishing. Among these are

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society


Sierra Club


World Wide Fund for Nature

We follow the journeys of the magnificent whales along our coastlines.

We are holding the future of ocean life in our hands. So, my question to you is:

Are you going to sit back and watch as the lives within the oceans disappear? Are you going to start making a difference in the world around us? Because, if not us, then who will step up to the plate and stop the extinction of life beneath our waters?

We are the guardians of the future. If we do not protect these creatures who will? Some will read this and scoff at it. Others will read this and agree with it, but will do nothing to change it. If we do not change, the only place our future generations will perhaps see a whale, shark, or other creatures of the deep will be in a book, or if they are lucky, in an aquarium. Do what you can to support the initiatives that are fighting for the future of these animals.

Feature image credit: Brett Seymour

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