It has been two years since The Green Connection, under its Who Stole Our Oceans campaign, started working with coastal communities whose livelihoods are being threatened by offshore oil and gas projects. The initiative is focused on protecting the oceans, particularly through opposing offshore oil and gas.
In addition, and critical to the campaign, is empowering coastal communities and small-scale fishers to be able to advocate for their environmental and human rights, and to call out various projects that appear to go ahead without meaningful public consultation.
According to The Green Connection’s Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy, “These past two years have been both heart-breaking and exhilarating. While it is painful to see, in our so-called democracy, that the voices and rights of indigenous and already marginalised peoples continue to be blatantly ignored and stomped on, I am inspired by the tenacity of our coastal communities. Now that they are more aware of their environmental rights, they are certainly making their presence felt.”
“There have been many times that communities, supported by organisations like The Green Connection, have called out questionable offshore oil and gas projects, exposing a lack of transparency and/or little to no consultations with affected communities. And over and over again, we are vindicated. For now, it seems that communities, with the help of the courts, have stopped the Shell and Searcher seismic surveys. Then there is also the fight with Karpowerships SA, since these powerships could cause significant harm to marine life and ecosystems, thereby undermining the livelihoods of the coastal communities that depend on the ocean,” says van Rooy.
He says, “It seems that for years the oil and gas industry has been operating with impunity, supported by government, in the name of so-called ‘development’. But now that communities are more clued up about their rights, it will be a lot harder to pull the wool over our eyes. Just recently, it was revealed that an oil rig is making its way to the shores of the Northern Cape. However, communities and activists there say they were not consulted.”
The Green Connection’s Strategic Lead Liziwe McDaid says, “World Ocean Day should be celebrated in appreciation for the value that the ocean holds for us all, as humanity. Not only does it give us oxygen but also absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, stabilizing the planet against climate change. It also provides us with food and sustains the livelihoods of coastal communities, and it is popular for leisure activities.”
“But Instead of a celebration for what the ocean means to us, we face an onslaught of oil and gas applications with harmful impacts on the ocean environment and marine life on which we depend. Civil society must reject offshore oil and gas exploration. Evidence shows that we do not need these fossil fuels in our future energy mix, which comes with no benefits for local South Africans as it will only be treated as a commodity. This month, we must highlight that our ocean is under threat, and we need to protect it for future generations to come,” says McDaid.
On Ocean Day, the Bigai Small-Scale Fishers, an environmental organisation in Knysna did a beach clean-up to spread awareness about the importance of ocean protection.
Small-scale fisherwoman Julie Danhausen says, “As fishers, we rely on the ocean and the lagoon to put food on the table. I urge our communities to work together to keep our ocean clean, at all times. This is also why I am against offshore oil and gas because of the negative impact it will have on our ocean, harming marine life and destroying fisher livelihoods in the process. Already our small-scale fishers in Knysna have lots of problems with SANParks and we are not always included in the decisions that affect us. However, we are learning more about our human and environmental rights, and how to defend these rights.”
Nompumelelo Fana and Zama Mtwa from Xolobeni Eastern Cape say, “The ocean is incredibly important to us. We rely on it for multiple purposes. We need it for fishing, which sustains our families and our livelihoods. The day we cannot fish, due to pollution or due to restrictions as a result of offshore oil and gas operations, is the day fishers die. It is also important as a tourist attraction, which is also another way to make a living.”
The Green Connection is proud of its contribution to protecting our sensitive ocean ecosystems and calls on government to bring destructive projects such offshore oil and gas to a halt. They are not in the public interest and risk creating destruction and hardship to ocean-based economic activities.