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“Why, if the ocean covers 70% of our planet, do we call it planet Earth?”

Ocean Witness Pavs shares her story

“The first time I saw the ocean, I was absolutely captivated by the water. I fell in love with the ocean and it has been a love affair ever since.” Pavs grew up in Johannesburg and discovered her love for the ocean at the age of sixteen. She now lives in Cape Town – where she’s surrounded by two (!) oceans – and works for World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa’s Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). Her job is to enable and empower South Africans to make wiser and more sustainable seafood choices. We met her via Skype and talked to her about the ocean and the important work she does to conserve it. Today she shares her story.

become an ocean witness
16 April 2018 | Cape Town, South Africa

Hi Pavs, thank you for meeting with us today. Can you tell me something about your earliest memory of the ocean?

I grew up in Johannesburg – a landlocked province in South Africa (SA) – which meant the ocean wasn’t a part of my childhood at all. The first time I got to see the ocean I was already 16. It was the first time my parents were able to afford to go to the sea; we went to Durban on the east coast of SA. When I saw the ocean, I was absolutely captivated by this water. What lay beneath these mysterious waters? What makes the waves ebb and flow? How did the creatures on the rocks survive and thrive? I was absolutely flabbergasted by the wonders of this water world. I fell in love with the beach and the ocean and it has been the most amazing love affair ever since.

“The first time I saw the ocean, I was absolutely captivated by the water. I fell in love with the beach and the ocean and it has been the most amazing love affair ever since.”
Pavs

What does the ocean mean to you today?

It’s the lifeline to our planet and a place of constant wonder, mystery and beauty. The oceans do not only give us sustenance, it gives and sustains life on this planet. It drives the weather and the climate, affords us our enjoyment and moves our economies. We are as connected to the oceans as we are to the land. In Cape Town we are surrounded by the oceans, well almost. We have the cold waters of the Atlantic on the west and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean on the south and east. It is beautiful to be in Cape town and have the oceans right outside your door, this is special and a privilege at the same time. I love the quote as you enter the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the USA: “Why, if the ocean covers 70% of our planet, do we call it planet Earth?”, it has always resonated with me. We should call our planet “Planet Water”. We must respect the ocean and appreciate all that it gives us.

“Why, if the ocean covers 70% of our planet, do we call it planet Earth?”
Monterey Bay Aquarium

What changes are you witnessing in the ocean?

Well, the sad thing is that most of the changes I have seen over the years have not been very positive. South Africa has a long legacy of fishing, using the oceans resources and a great love of seafood, and growing up I can recall an entire basket of varied and delicious seafood available to us as a family… We used to enjoy the richness and bounty of the ocean, even though we weren’t even living close to the ocean.

Nowadays what is available is only a fraction of what was in number, size and diversity, a definite consequence of indiscriminate and unsustainable fishing and consumption practices. Moving to Cape Town, one of my ultimate joys is to walk the beach and dip my feet in the ocean. It gave me a sense of serenity, a walking meditation so to speak. Time for solitude and contemplation, a moment to solve problems and recharge. Now however all I see is litter and I spend all my time picking up the litter. Instead of walking on the beach lost in thought, I’m cleaning it. I find myself wondering: ‘How am I ever going to pick everything up?’. We take so much from the ocean without giving it reprieve, we pollute it and disregard how dependent we are on it. Our actions make me wonder have we lost all respect for the oceans?

What do you see, that makes you feel like we have lost respect for the ocean?

Where do I start? We fish unsustainably, and many of our fishing methods have huge impacts on the ecosystem such as bycatch, which we often discard – throw away! People fish illegally and poach endangered or undersized fish and crustaceans. I see so many seabirds with fishing lines on their legs, seals caught in plastic and turtles with pieces plastic in their guts. We dump millions of tons of our waste and garbage into the sea every day and the list goes on and on……  The things I witness definitely shout out at me that we have lost respect for nature and what it gives us? For me these shouts are deafening but I also know that we have the power and know-how to change things.

''I believe that if we all make a small change, we can eventually accomplish big changes due to the cumulative effect.''
Pavs

How are these changes affecting you?

Well I must admit, I initially get very angry and then start feeling very lugubrious. Angry at our disrespect for the ocean, at human beings polluting the ocean and using the oceans resources unsustainably. After calming down I have to tell myself that what is happening is due to a state of unawareness and in some instances desperation. I usually say: ‘Well then it’s my job to make changes and find solutions. The first step to bringing about changes is by making people more aware and help them rediscover the respect and love for the ocean originally instilled in us!’ So, I first get upset, but then I get cracking and act. I believe that if we all make a small change, we can eventually accomplish big things due to the cumulative effect.

So, when you revert to action, what are the things you do to make a positive impact and contribute to the cumulative effect you just mentioned?

I have been very fortunate in that my family is very eco-conscious and so was my education. Personally, I try to recycle as much as I can and limit how much plastic I am using no plastic earbuds, no plastic straws, no single use plastic bags, I am trying to grow my own veggies and the list goes on. I also make sure I only consume sustainable seafood. Most importantly; I use my voice. I hold others accountable. I will go up to someone and ask them to pick up their rubbish if they are littering and I often ask people if they really need to use a straw.  I spread the word about the WWF-SASSI program and show them the app which you can use to make smart seafood choices. I believe we have unfathomable power as individuals and I try to “be the change I want to see” (took that life lesson from one of my hero’s Mahatma Gandhi). Often, I would be that person who stops and picks up a litter and places it in a bin in public or questions the seafood option on a menu. Knowledge, education and actions are our greatest assets and must be  shared.

My professional work entails communicating about how we can help our oceans and inadvertently ourselves. It is one of the most rewarding jobs ever. I get to talk to the public about making wise choices regarding the seafood they buy, how their actions or lack of action can actually make a huge difference. WWF-SA’s SASSI program has developed an easy to use traffic light rating system for seafood. We scientifically assess seafood species and then place these species on a green, orange or red rating list. Red means a species is at risk, and ask people to avoid these, green means the species is resilient and is sources responsibly and sustainably, so consumers can purchase these with a clear conscious. An orange/amber rating means that consumers must think twice before consuming or purchasing these as there are some conservation concerns about this species.  My role is explaining that very scientific rating and communicating it in fun and innovative ways. I make sure that the public knows and understands why sustainable seafood is important, and how they can use their wallets and their voices to ensure we will always have seafood on our tables and fish in our seas for the future. I love my job (most of the time)  because I am making difference and helping to chart new ways to make things better for our oceans. Bringing back that awe, wonder and respect we once had for the oceans, because I believe if you respect something, you will take care of it and protect it.

What do you think are good conservational solutions for the ocean?

One of the most important ways is to expand our network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) around the world. Many people in South Africa don’t understand what an MPA is. They don’t understand why they can’t fish there and often believe that by supporting MPA’s, we are supporting inaccessibility to the ocean and its resources. In a country with a legacy of Apartheid, a system where certain race groups were denied access to resources and places, you can only imagine how difficult communicating the need for MPA’s really is.  I often tell people that MPA’s are like sanctuaries; they are refugia for our fish to grow, live and reproduce without fishing and other pressures. When you give an area of the ocean some time, it will rejuvenate and restore itself, eventually fish from the MPA will overflow into fishing areas. Children often will ask me if it is like a nursery. And in a way it’s exactly like a type of nursery, a place for fish to have a chance to reproduce and safely grow. Adults often question MPA’s because of the socio-economic factors and the implications thereof. I explain to them that the economy and livelihoods will be severely affected if we don’t have MPA’s, because not only will fish stocks possibly disappear or become so depleted that many of our inshore fisheries will cease to exist as well.  Remember fisheries support many people’s lives and industries.

 

Another solution to me is fishing responsibly. Many fisheries kill other species due to bycatch, species such as turtles, sharks, seals, seabirds and other fish species along the way. Eventually you will not be able to fish at all if you continue to fish irresponsibly. I often tell folks to think of the ocean’s ecosystem as a beautiful house, made of many different colored bricks. Each colored brick represents a different species. If you want to take out some of the, let’s say, red bricks but also accidently take out some of the others colors and/or take out too many red bricks without putting any back your house will collapse and rebuilding your house takes time and often it is not as sturdy as it once was. Similarly, if you want to keep on fishing and enjoying the benefits of the oceans, the only way to do so is sustainably, responsibly and carefully. Works, every time!

 

Last but not least: sustainable seafood. Like all supply chains, demand creates supply. If there’s a demand for something, no matter how unsustainable, or what the conservation status is, somebody will supply that something. That’s the sad truth about the world we live in today. However, if we influence the demand side and make wise decisions about what and how much we consume, we immediately start making changes to the supply side. These small changes are what we so desperately need.

Be informed, be aware, act with intention and spread the word. Solutions like these are tangible and easily doable. The worst thing we can do is to tell people not to do something without giving them an alternative – so always give people an alternative. More importantly we must show them that their small and sustained change has led to positive impacts. Show people the “eco-dividends” of their investment no matter how big or small these are.

“See, the ecosystem is like a brick house. Each brick is a species, if you take out too of the bricks without taking care of the rest, your house will evently collapse.”
Pavs

What will the ocean look like in 2030?

While I am a worrier I am also an eternal optimist and my hope is that because of all the work and interventions organizations and individuals are putting in, will build a resilient and plentiful ocean, teaming with life because if our oceans are healthy, so will we. The ocean is an integral earth system, like land, fresh water and the atmosphere. These systems all fit and work together to give us our wonderful habitable planet. I hope that by then we have garnered enough respect for the ocean and nature that sustainability and responsiby sourcing is the norm. I would love to know that our turtles and whales not full of plastic, that we are firmly on the road of righting all the wrongs we have done to our natural world and its inhabitants. Idealistic I know, but a girl can dream.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and these practical tips. You are an Ocean Witness now, what would you like to say to other ocean witnesses?

Please, never stop talking about the ocean. We need to talk about the ocean, tell our stories, share the successes, make people part of the solution and never stop trying. We need to talk about the people and initiatives that are making changes, communities that are fishing sustainably, people cleaning beaches, areas that serve as sanctuaries to species, people and companies that are being responsible around the ocean and how they use it and its resources. We also need to hold each other accountable, Ocean Witnesses or should I say Ocean Champions are exactly the people to do that.

“We need to talk about the ocean, tell our stories, share the successes, make people part of the solution and never stop trying.”
Pavs

About Pavs
Pavs grew up in Johannesburg (Gauteng) and discovered her love for the ocean at the age of sixteen in Durban whilst on holiday. She has moved to Cape Town to study Marine Biology and has lived there ever since. Pavs lives in a city cradled by two oceans – Cape Town. Pavs works for the WWF – SA’s South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) program. WWF – SA SASSI drives change in the local seafood industry by working with suppliers and sellers of seafood, as well as informing and inspiring consumers to make sustainable seafood choices.

 

Pavs believes education and creating awareness will help people to make more sustainable choices and care for our oceans better. Our Ocean Witness, Jessica, shares this belief. Interested in her point of view? Click here to read the story. But that’s not the only thing Pavs’ story has in common with other Ocean Witnesses. Ocean Witness Verena also talked about the importance of making scientifical data and policies more tangible to the wider public. Click here to find out more. 

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Pavs

Cape Town, South Africa

Pavs grew up in Johannesburg (Gauteng) , she has moved to Cape Town to study Marine Biology and has lived there ever since. Pavs works for the WWF – SA’s South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) program.