President Cyril Ramaphosa recently participated in the G-7 Leaders Summit Outreach in Toronto, convened by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The summit’s theme was, Healthy, Productive and Resilient Seas, Coasts and Communities. It was also attended by representatives from other developing countries — such as Kenya, the Seychelles, Samoa, Haiti, Senegal and Jamaica — that rely heavily on harnessing the potential of the oceans to grow their economies. As a country that has dealt effectively with plastic pollution, Rwanda was also a participant.

The health of the world’s oceans and seas is critical to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the planet. Oceans support communities, jobs and livelihoods — as well as being a source of food security and biodiversity.

Oceans also play a key role in the global climate system, and SA, like many other coastal countries, is vulnerable to the effects of ocean warming, acidification, sea-level rise and extreme weather events.

At the summit, Ramaphosa presented the already significant strides SA has taken through Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy. Launched in 2014 to unlock the economic potential of SA’s oceans, Operation Phakisa is a fundamental principle of the government’s economic growth and social transformation agenda, and supports the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP).

The six growth areas are marine transport and manufacturing; offshore oil and gas exploration; aquaculture; marine protection services and ocean governance; small harbours development; and coastal and marine tourism.

To date, SA has realised investment of R26.3bn in the oceans economy, and created 6,633 jobs since October 2014. This has been mainly in infrastructure development (notably ports and marine manufacturing, as well scientific and seismic surveys in the oil and gas sector).

Ramaphosa emphasised at the summit that having the benefit of about 4,000km of coastline, SA is ensuring our oceans and coastal ecosystems are sustainably managed.

Marine pollution

Earlier this month the world marked World Oceans Day, and the Department of Environmental Affairs outlined SA’s plans to tackle some of the biggest threats to the health of our oceans, such as marine pollution.

Through the department’s Working for the Coast programme, SA is taking concrete action to address the threat posed by marine pollution — and plastics pollution in particular. We continue to mobilise society through education campaigns as part of our efforts to eradicate litter in the oceans and in areas within river catchments.

The six growth areas are marine transport and manufacturing; offshore oil and gas exploration; aquaculture; marine protection services and ocean governance; small harbours development; and coastal and marine tourism.

In line with our commitment to provide the necessary infrastructure and enhance capacity to tackle pollution, the department supports start-up and existing enterprises to establish buy-back centres and material-recovery facilities, in line with Operation Phakisa initiatives. This is done through the recycling enterprise support programme (RESP), which has a R194m budget over a three-year period.

Single-use plastics pose a particular challenge to our efforts to minimise plastic pollution, and we are working with the Department of Trade and Industry to manage the problem.

The Department of Environmental Affairs is also working with industry to find solutions to the problem of micro-beads in cosmetics, which are particularly harmful to marine life; it is noteworthy that the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrance Association of SA has committed to their voluntary phasing out.

We are also reviewing the country’s plastic bags policy and undertaking a study to determine whether the intended objectives of addressing plastic bag litter, and promoting re-use and recycling of plastic carrier bags, have been achieved.

In June we also launched Operation 30 Days at Sea, in partnership with Interpol, focusing on enforcement and compliance with environmental legislation in the oceans and coastal environment. In the coming months, we will also launch the department’s Source to Sea Initiative, an ambitious new strategy to investigate, combat and ultimately eradicate marine pollution.

Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina initiative calls on all South Africans to be part of building a better society. In this regard, we will launch a Green Good Deeds campaign — a concept borrowed from India. An app is in development that will catalyse this social movement by urging people to perform at least one green good deed every day, such as planting trees, conserving water, or using public transport. The app will be unveiled at the official launch of the Green Good Deeds campaign in the coming months.

A healthy and sustainable ocean space supports SA’s transition to an environmentally sustainable, climate change-resilient, low-carbon economy — and a just society. We are a country committed to the principles of sustainable development, and to ensuring we conserve our natural environment — but at the same time advance economic growth and create jobs.

As highlighted at the G-7 Leaders Outreach Summit, SA can be justifiably proud of the advances it has made so far.

Molewa is Environmental Affairs Minister