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This past World Ocean Day, which took place on 8 June, saw local schoolgirl Buntu Sibiya representing SA’s very first World Heritage site Park in New York.
The 14-year-old Sibiya joined a group of young people from 13 of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Marine World Heritage Sites around the globe to launch a campaign called #MyOceanPledge.
According to iSimanagaliso, on behalf of the entire Marine World Heritage community – including 49 ‘jewels of the ocean’ or marine World Heritage Sites – the group made a pledge to preserve the precious oceans for future generations.
“It was the ultimate youth day event,” says Zaloumis. “The future of our oceans – and of our natural heritage as a whole – is ultimately dependent on our youth, so we get them involved in opportunities like this, our Environmental and Higher Education Programmes and work opportunities wherever we can.”
Speaking at the United National General Assembly in New York as one of three youth selected to address the assembly on behalf of young people globally. Sibiya’s message to over 2000 delegates, 40 Heads of State and royalty highlighted the importance of the ocean.
“As one of the 49 UNESCO jewels of the ocean, iSimangaliso is important to our community as a source of recreation and employment, protection of animals – like nesting turtles – and resources such as fishing,” says Sibiya. “People need to realise that plastic pollution is killing our oceans and turtles, overfishing damages our food source and ocean mining threatens our heritage.”
According to iSimangaliso, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco spearheaded the signing of the #MyOceanPledge. He was joined by Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, as well as Adrian Grenier, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Environment.
Each of the 32 participating youth from 13 World Heritage Sites in 11 countries – including marine sites such as Galapagos Island, the Great Barrier Reef and Seychelles – also signed their personal pledges.
UNESCO’s Marine Programme Coordinator, Fanny Douvere says, “We could not have dreamed of a better way to share our precious cause with the world. This was a totally unique opportunity to have an entire segment dedicated to protecting marine world heritage sites in front of over 40 heads of state at the closing part of the high level celebration at the UN General Assembly (UNGA).”
Accompanying the Grade 9 learner from Mtubatuba Christian Academy, who also shows gratitude for being part of an event like this, was her Father, Park Operations Director Sizo Sibiya.
“What an experience,” says Sibiya. “This trip presented me with an extraordinary opportunity as a first time overseas traveller. My dad made it clear to me that we were travelling for work but I had fun.
“I was in New York for the first time, yet I had an exclusive opportunity to set my foot in the United Nations Assembly Buildings, giving a talk to a number of the world’s Heads of State and over 2000 delegates. I never knew I could do this, but UNESCO’s marine programme, together with iSimangaliso and my school made this a reality.”
With Sibiya’s message videotaped and circulating on social media. Sibiya’s school principal, Leonard Mthembu, commended her on her good leadership qualities, saying “We would like to congratulate Buntu for having represented the school and iSimangaliso in the World Marine celebration in New York. We watched the video online and seeing her as one of the three that presented was so exciting.”
“Seeing and listening to my daughter talking to the heads of states in the United Nations Assembly not only humbled me, but also made me realise the importance of saving our oceans from littering and exploitation by humankind,” reminisces Mr Sibiya.
Mr Sibiya says he has real appreciation for the enormous amount of work, energy and passion that the UNESCO Marine World Heritage Programme and its agencies invest in protecting and nurturing the global ocean jewels.
With the launch of #MyOceanPledge, 32 youth have also gone home to carry that same message back to their own communities, ” says Sibiya. “It was an incredibly significant occasion to be part of, listening to Head of States and respective world dignitaries talking with one voice about the protection of our oceans.”