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FEATURE STORY June 2, 2020

Meet our Innovator Protecting Our Oceans in China: Ma Haipeng

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Ma Haipeng is the Executive Secretary-General of Shenzhen Blue Ocean Conservation Association and continues to devote both his personal and professional life to marine environmental protection. Ma hopes to inspire children from a young age to be pioneers when it comes to taking innovative approaches to the health of our oceans.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am Ma Haipeng, Executive Secretary-General of Shenzhen Blue Ocean Conservation Association (BOCA). I was born in Weifang, a small country town in China’s Shandong Province. I grew up in the mountains and felt close to nature. Both my childhood experience and current work make me enjoy being in nature. I often feel depressed in the concrete buildings of the city.

I have been involved in environmental protection and education for almost ten years. After college, I first worked as a volunteer and later became a full-time environmental professional. I have been actively participating in coastal cleanup campaigns for seven or eight years now. In my work, I focus more on environmental education for children and want to get more children to join in environmental protection from a young age. I am hoping to plant a seed in every child’s mind through awareness so that they will be more respectful and take good care of the environment.

 

Can you tell us about your work?

My organization, BOCA, was founded in 2002 and officially registered in 2005. It is the first private non-profit social organization dedicated to marine environmental protection in China. It has been awarded "Guangdong Ocean Awareness Education Base" by the Provincial Bureau of Ocean and Fishery. We have been working on marine environmental protection through three major programs: Blue Coast, Blue Home and Blue Classroom, with a focus on ocean cleanup, marine biodiversity and marine environmental awareness education. We were the first to organize the International Ocean Cleanup Day in China and have been doing it in Shenzhen for 15 years.

Our Blue Coast program consists of our annual International Ocean Cleanup Day campaign. In the third weekend of September every year, we mobilize more than 1,000 people to remove trash from the beaches. In 2019 alone, we organized close to 300 coastal cleaning activities.

To better understand the distribution and types of trash on Shenzhen’s beaches, we launched an annual "Coastal Recorders" program and organized volunteers to walk along Shenzhen’s 260.5 km coastline to record any changes and coastal litter distribution. In the past, we picked up a lot of garbage and did a lot of monitoring. But garbage removal was more for educational purposes, and the data collected could not be put to practical use. We work with Peking University’s School of Environment and Energy in monitoring and studying marine debris, collecting samples at selected points, conducting analysis, and reporting on the state of marine debris in Shenzhen and provide recommendations on marine debris management to the local government.

This is innovative because it is our first coastline waste study and our first action to systematically promote solutions to environmental problems.


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Ma Haipeng and his team remove trash from the beach.

(Photo: supplied)


What drives you to do this work?

My life and work are almost all related to nature and environmental protection has become a part of my personal life as well as professional pursuit. I am most passionate about being able to truly contribute to the solution of an environmental problem and to help improve the ecology and environment for future generations through my daily actions.

It is more an obligation than a motivation. Walking through every corner of the Shenzhen’s coastline, too often I have seen piles of marine litter, small fish, crabs and even sea horses entangled in discarded fishing nets, and mangroves covered with waste. Seeing all this, one cannot help but stand up and want to do something to make a change. I really hope to do all that I can and encourage others to protect our oceans and ecosystem to ensure a nice and beautiful environment for ourselves and our friends to enjoy, and a safe place for our children.

The oceans are facing a growing number of environmental problems, from coastal garbage, decreasing fish stocks, loss of rare species, lack of protected areas, to microplastics which is a major concern in recent years. Each one is a big challenge.

However, I think the biggest challenge is our attitude towards environmental problems and how to solve them.  Environmental issues are more of a concern for particular groups of people like environmental professionals – otherwise, most people simply do not care. For our association, we need to find innovative ways to mobilize all sectors of society to join in ocean protection and build a national consensus and agree on collective actions to save our oceans.

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Ma Haipeng is weighing the beach trash collected by a volunteer. (Photo: supplied)

 

What does this year’s World Oceans Day theme, “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean” mean to you?

Innovative solutions are critical. In my view, innovation is not only about technology, but also about channels, new programs, and new audiences. At present, not enough attention is given to the health of our oceans. Too many environmental issues get the attention of only a small group of people, which makes one feel so powerless. Resolving an environmental problem requires attention from all people. We must work together on this and we must act now.

 

What message would you like everyone to hear on World Oceans Day 2020?

The ocean is the source of life. The ecological health of the ocean is closely related to and dependent on us - humans. Likewise, the ecological deterioration of our oceans affects us all.  But through our collective action, the environment can improve. We should not think that the ocean has nothing to do with us. We should not think that our individual actions do not matter. It is only when everybody acts responsibly for the benefit of our oceans that will we have a a better world and a healthier environment.


**The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.



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