Young urban citizens are being connected to the ocean via urban waterways through a Beach Co-op programme. “Caring for our ocean starts by caring for our neighbourhood,” says Megan-Rose Francis, operations manager of the Beach Co-op.

Briefing before a beach clean-up at Muizenberg, Cape Town. Photo: Verity Fitzgerald.

A MEETCHANGEMAKERS grant was used to help fund the youth programme. 

“Cleaning up the beach has changed the way I see life,” says 21-year-old Yusrah Eksteen.

“Before I leave any beach, I make sure to thoroughly check that I left nothing behind. Whenever I see litter even outside of the beach, I’ll pick them up and throw them away,” adds the University of Cape Town environmental and geographical science student, who is also studying anthropology and linguistics.

The Beach Co-op was founded by a group of volunteers who started meeting to clean waste at Surfers Corner on the Muizenberg beach, which is close to Cape Town. They were concerned about the plastic waste that was accumulating along the rocky shoreline.

It has grown into a dedicated non-profit organisation on a mission to build ocean communities that care.

Identifying sea creatures – before conservation comes knowledge and awareness. Photo: Verity Fitzgerald.

Broken and abandoned nets kill marine mammals and birds which get tangled up in them.

The motivation to focus on the youth was to bring home the message that everyone can make a difference.

“Often when we focus on ambassadors or activists, others feel they can’t live up to the standard and become apathetic. There is also the risk that ambassadors do one thing with us but are then also get paid to advertise products like disposable nappies, which totally contradicts their involvement with us,” says Megan-Rose.

“Through joining the beach clean-ups I got to learn so much about the ocean, and human impact on it. Before I became a beach clean-up volunteer, I did not realize just how much litter was in the ocean,” says Zintle Mtsi, who was born and raised in the Cape Town township of Gugulethu.

“Growing up in the Cape Flats (a part of Cape Town situated inland and on the outskirts of the city) with a single mom who did not have a car, I had very limited access to the ocean. 

“In fact, I only ever got to experience the ocean during special public holidays such as New Year’s Day – when most South Africans flock to public beaches,” she says.

“But I grew to have a passion for the natural environment and studied geography and environmental studies at school. Through my passion and interest in the environment, I came across The Beach Co-op and joined a beach clean-up hosted by The Beach Co-op and other partners during International Coastal Clean-up Day one year.  That experience made eager to join more beach clean-ups and soon I became a regular volunteer at the clean-ups,” she adds.

Like other youth who have been exposed to the damage being done to the oceans by waste, Yusrah and Zintle have become community activists and educators.

They have also benefited and grown personally.

And one of the best things was meeting a community of like-minded conservationists, environmentalists, and other environmentally-conscious people – which was mostly women and, more specifically women of colour,” says Zintle.

“I started seeing more of myself, through others. People who look like me who are fully immersed in the natural environment – something that people like me have limited or no access to. Being around this group has been very eye-opening and empowering for me”.

“Physically being part of something like cleaning up a beach creates a warm fuzzy feeling that no amount of in-class room teaching can give you,” adds Yusrah.

The experience has inspired him to further his studies in biodiversity and conservation or water ethics/management. 

“I’ve realized how precious life is and how easily it can be taken away by one small interaction (how litter can kill marine life). Its such a sad situation we live in, and it amazes me how many people are unaware of their actions.

“I plan to further my studies in biodiversity and conservation next year or study water ethics / management,” he adds.

A sense of achievement and making a difference after a beach clean-up. Photo: Gunnar Oberhoesel.

A sense of achievement and making a difference after a beach clean-up. Photo: Gunnar Oberhoesel.

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