College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Dr Refilwe Mofokeng (front, seventh from left) at the meeting on Integrating Marine Litter Monitoring to Inform Action in Portugal.

Postdoctoral Researcher Participates in Global Forum on Marine Litter

Postdoctoral researcher in the School of Health Sciences at UKZN Dr Refilwe Mofokeng participated in a high-level international event in Portugal that honed in on the issue of marine litter and enabled her to highlight Africa’s needs in this arena and connect with other scientists and practitioners.

The EU4OceanObs international ocean governance instrument of the European Union leveraged its G7 FSOI and GEO Blue Planet components to host the meeting on Integrating Marine Litter Monitoring to Inform Action – a global instrument to tackle global pollution. These components catalyse essential partnerships between European and international infrastructure and programmes across the ocean by observing the value chain to deliver a coordinated fit-for-purpose system. The purpose of the EU4OceanObs is to build on European observation capacity and leadership to increase the sharing and use of ocean data and meet the global need for ocean information.

Mofokeng was part of the organising team and served as a moderator and participant in a programme that focused on marine litter observation, remote sensing, and modelling as key pillars to support the setting of realistic plastic litter reduction targets and developing policies to meet these targets. As one of 86 participants representing 23 countries, with Kenya, Ghana and South Africa the only African nations present, she shared some of the local solutions in sub-Saharan Africa – particularly South Africa – to marine litter monitoring and management.

‘Africa is often left behind in development and technologies,’ said Mofokeng. ‘Co-creation is the solution; it takes everyone to contribute to a sustainable option!’

She pointed out that in many developed countries sustainability depends more on people’s willingness to make changes than resources to do so, while in Africa, countries often compete for limited resources, which prevents or slows progress.

Mofokeng said that the meeting focused on the need for accurate, up-to-date information on global marine litter and plastic pollution in order to monitor and achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.1.1 targets and support the UNEA-5 announcement to forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024.

Mofokeng’s academic background is in marine and estuarine ecotoxicology, and she has prioritised marine conservation through her research, advocacy and organisation of beach clean-ups. Her postdoctoral research centres on urban rivers’ impact in marine systems with a focus on the Durban Harbour. Passionate about education around marine conservation, she founded the Refilwe Matlotlo non-profit organisation as a means to communicate this message and facilitate tangible action.

Attending the meeting in Portugal enabled Mofokeng to network with early career practitioners from across the globe and connect with prominent scientists working in the marine environment. She said that the participants prioritised data standardisation and harmonisation, and highlighted the need for a central hub such as an integrated marine debris observation system to distribute trusted information globally.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied