Acknowledging Intersectionality within the Marine Conservation – Thando Mazomba

In the tenth of our series of All-Atlantic Conversations, Joanne Sweeney interviews Thando Mazomba – an All-Atlantic Ocean youth ambassador for South Africa under the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance.


I first met the All-Atlantic Ocean youth ambassadors two years ago in Galway for the first class and it’s an amazing group of people. What in your view is the importance of All-Atlantic co-operation?

I would say that the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance intends to advance the shared vision of an all Atlantic ocean that is resilient, healthy, clean, safe, transparent, predictive, productive, treasured, and really understood to promote a wellbeing and a security and prosperity for present and future generations. I think the magnitude of this cooperation facilitates the breaking down of geographical silos when we speak about solutions towards healthier oceans, and it allows for a diverse conversations from all over the Atlantic basin, spanning different races, ages, cultures, and professions. So one of the cool ways it facilitates this action is through the All-Atlantic Ocean Youth Ambassadorship which I am a part of, and I am one of 25 ambassadors of 14 countries along the Atlantic basin and I thoroughly look forward to continuing to work closely with my fellow ambassadors to build onto this Atlantic community where we can share ideas, knowledge, resources, data, and research. I also think this collaboration will strengthen a lot of local initiatives that ambassadors are busy with, as well as spark global ones.

What action needs to happen in order to foster positive change?

If we look at healthy and sustainable oceans, specifically the Atlantic ocean, I’m going to mention three main things. To begin with on an economic level, I think that there needs to be a behavioural shift specifically in how we define profit. For far too long we have been exploiting and continue to exploit resources in our efforts to meet the bottom line. And for me, this means that we have put the value of natural resources at the lowest of our priorities, and this is simply not sustainable. And I would refer back to a principle of a lot that has been undertaken by many indigenous communities, which really states that the health of our societies is a reflection of the health of our natural environments. And another way that I’ve learned or sort of perceived this principle is that the wealth of our societies and communities is measured by the health of our environments.

So you can really see how taking care of our environments will actually have a really good resilient and longterm benefit for us as a human society. Scientifically, I would say that we need to create more platforms where we can increase our sharing of data and research and to make it as accessible to as many people as possible as well. Sharing data for scientists, it’s generally a touchy subject, but should we want to really address and understand our oceans and its inhabitants better and might I add in the time pressure that we face in terms of climate change and biodiversity loss, I would say that we need to slow down on recreating the wheel regionally and really harness the momentum we can get if we collaborate, if we increase our collaboration globally. Another thing that I would say to consider in this aspect is acknowledging that Westernised science is not the only way going forward.

There are many indigenous communities who have deep and robust knowledge of working with and thriving with the environment. And I really think that we should not exclude these communities any further going forward when we make policy changes or policies. Socially, I would say that the acknowledgement of intersectionality within the marine conservation space is needed, and by this I mean that conservation looks so different for different groups of people and it does not mean that one perspective is more important than the other. Intersectionality is a really difficult concept, but a very necessary one to address because it exactly speaks to the equal importance of all lived experiences. And I think that if we can really achieve this, there’s a huge and great opportunity for us to tap into a vast array of solutions when we talk about wanting healthy oceans.

So all of these three aspects that I’ve spoken to I believe need to be endorsed and absorbed by policy change. And in addition to this policy change, I think that there should be a review in current environmental impact legislation. For example, out of the 54 African countries, 34 of them have implemented some sort of anti-plastic legislation. I also think that there needs to be a review in how the global south is currently often the recipient of waste from the global north and really understanding where our waste goes and what we do with our waste I think speaks to addressing this out of sight out of mind thinking that we have currently. And lastly I would say subsidising environmentally considerate products, such as electric cars or wind energy or safe and reliable public transport or solar energy. I think that the ocean decade really has the power to encourage us to forge forward in these change of ways of thinking, and I think we should grab this initiative with both hands and really get into the work because our oceans do depend on it.

I heard commissioner Marielle Gabrielle talk about that the ocean is in safe hands with the youth when she introduced the latest class in Brussels last year. What role do the youth play in shaping policy and achieving all of those objectives that you so articulately outlined?

The youth has a number of ways to contribute. Currently we see a lot of youth scientifically going through a lot of studying all the way from undergraduate degrees to post-graduate. So professionally we have a lot to offer I believe, but besides that, we are so connected globally. We talk about globalisation in many industries and I think the youth is really good at connecting over social media on other professional platforms. I have made wonderful friends who I’m yet to meet and I’m excited to meet from across different basins, including the Atlantic basin. And we really have an understanding and an acceptance of one another where I feel that present generations have really struggled with that. And so understanding how to engage with one another across different cultures, races, ages, traditions, religions is something that I think we can look towards the youth to lead us.

You’ll be taking part of the All-Atlantic 2021 conference in June. Do you have any final calls to action to encourage your peers to register and show up? I think it’s going to be the ocean science event of the year.

I think it’s going to be the ocean science event of the decade, to be honest! I’ve looked at the program and I encourage everyone to actually just read through the program and look at the different initiatives and conversations that we’re planning to have. My biggest call to action, I think, would be to ask those who have registered to really find a way to share, if there are recordings to share those recordings with people who may not have access to these conversations and really take it a step further. And of course, if you haven’t registered, go ahead and register and be a part of it and take these conversations to your homes, to your schools, to your friendship circles. Because in the end, we need everybody to participate in the ocean decade, not just scientists, not just policymakers. Everyone is a part of this initiative.

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