Last month, about 80 youths from various countries came together to address a serious issue which is often overlooked, namely marine pollution.

Coming from the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Yemen, China and Malaysia, the youths held discussions to find solutions to issues pertaining to marine pollution.

They were participating in the International Conference on Youth, Ocean and SDG14 that was held at a hotel in Melaka from July 1-5, organised by World Youth Foundation, a non-governmental organisation associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information.

The event ended with a beach cleaning exercise at the fishermen’s jetty at Pantai Siring in Merlimau, Melaka.
Plastics, sewerage and agricultural waste, as well as toxic sludge from factories and power plants, are being dumped into our oceans.

Among the issues that came up for discussion was the pollution of the sea off Bali, Indonesia. The huge amount of plastic wastes lying on the seabed over there is affecting marine habitats.

Meanwhile, the seabeds off the Maldives are reasonably clean as the government is extremely cautious and keeps a check on the tourism and fishing activities.

Tourism is the number one revenue earner for the Maldives, followed by fishing. Maldives’ fishermen also have a unique way of catching bluefin tuna from their rich ocean, which does not entail the use of fishing nets. This has helped to sustain its bluefin tuna population.

During the Capacity Building session by USM Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies’ Dr Norlaila Mohd Zanuri, she emphasised how youths can play an important role in reporting any crisis taking place around the oceans and how they can be the whistleblowers for their respective governments.

UM’s Dr Sahadev Sharma spoke on the importance of mangroves. Worldwide, 30 to 50 percent of the 13 million to 15 million hectares of mangroves have gone.

Malaysia is the third-largest mangrove-holding country in the world and our Matang Forest Reserve in Perak and the mangroves of Sabah are excellent cases in point where their preservation is concerned.

Mangroves play a critical role in balancing ocean habitats as they help fishes and crustaceans to multiply. It also protect us against calamities such as tsunamis as they help to moderate the rising sea level and especially the waves.

With eight million tons of plastic waste entering our oceans each year, nations should hasten their transition to the circular economic system which is aimed at minimising waste and making the most of resources.

According to Forbes, only nine percent of the global economy is circular — this means that only nine percent of the 92.8 billion tons of minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass entering the economy are reused annually.

Over the last three years, many countries have started to ban the use of plastic bags. But even if every country were to ban plastic bags it would not make much of a difference as they make up less than 0.8 percent of the mass of plastic items that currently float on the world’s oceans.

Seventy percent of the plastic items found floating on oceans today — about 190,000 tons — come from fisheries, with buoys, fishing gear, ghost gear and lines making up the majority.

While cleaning up the beach after the conference, I saw many fishing nets left and when asked, the fishermen said they left them there as the local authority does not help to clean the nets.

The conference delegates, with the help of students from SM Gajah Berang, managed to collect 87kg of waste.
Forty percent of the earth’s population is made up of youths. Their numbers make them as mighty as the ocean itself.
If marine pollution issues are left unresolved, it is the future generation that will have to bear the brunt. In a world where we have created smartphones, smart cities and smart trains and where we use artificial intelligence to fix everything, let’s use our natural intelligence to fix our surroundings. – Bernama