The future of SOUTH AFRICAN FISHING COMPETITIONS - Plastic! Dr Deborah Robertson-Andersson - Head of Education Sustainable Seas TrustI try not to think about the state of South Africa’s oceans as I know it will make me depressed. I really shouldn’t be depressed about South Africa’s oceans. Besides the rich diversity of habitats, ecosystems, and species (almost 12000). 13 % of our fish and 36 % of our marine invertebrate species occur only in South Africa, 83 % of all marine fish families around the world can be found under the waves off our shores. Our oceans are so rich and productive that they support thousands of jobs and contribute billions to our national economy. They drive our rainfall, and this plays a critical role in the socio-economic activities in our country. They are important to all South Africans, whether we interact with them or not.
I am closely connected to the oceans, I studied to become a marine biologist and my love for the oceans was driven by my family. My father and grandfather took part in fishing competitions and as I child I used to wake up before sunrise, stand on a chair, peer through binoculars to spot their boat and jump with glee as I saw them take off to start the competition, knowing that there would be fresh fish on the braai that night.
This year to recognise World Ocean Day, in my old hometown, Cape Town, the first South African plastic fishing tournament was held. Twenty boats with 100 fishermen on board sat waiting in the bay for the radio signal to start the competition. After just three hours they had removed 300 Kg of recyclable plastic from just 30 square kilometres of the sea. The competition is a fantastic initiative by Corona Beer and occurs world-wide. To date they have removed 3.8 tons from China, 1.8 tons from Israel, 4.3 tons from South Africa, 2.9 tons from Brazil and 8.6 tons from Mexico. Fishermen get paid the same amount for recyclable plastics that they do for fish, and the materials get recycled into benches and desks.

But the depressed, cynical part of me wonders are plastic fishing tournaments the future for my grandchildren. In South Africa, 40 000 tons of plastic enters the country’s rivers and ends up on the coastline annually . There was a statement made by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2016, that by 2050 there would be more plastic in the sea than fish . Although as a scientist I know that the statement is a rough calculation based on educated guesses . Knowing that fishermen are being paid to fish plastics makes it a little too real.
And my depression? It turns out that it even has a name; eco-anxiety, climate depression, apocalypse fatigue and solastalgia. I’m not alone in experiencing it. Knowing that we live in a stable, predictable environment is key to our metal health and well-being.
Fishermen being paid to fish for plastic...Well is something that my grandfather never could have predicted.