Without the ocean, Kudzi Victorino Dykman’s family wouldn’t have been able to make ends meet when she was growing up on a small island in Mozambique’s Inhambane Bay.
She lived with her parents and 19 siblings in a single house and the abundance of the ocean gave them both food to eat and an income.
“I grew up on this island where there’s no electricity, no jobs, no running water — we used rainwater for drinking water,” Dykman told Global Citizen. “If it’s a long time without the rain, we had to cross to one of the main lands to get drinking water.
“All we used to do to make a living was go out and collect seafood,” she said. “We collected crabs, clams, fish, and then at night we used to go fishing for prawns.”
As she grew older, the ocean remained an integral part of her life, and she soon realized she had a knack for swimming and diving — and breaking glass ceilings.
In 2012, she became the first woman ever to be certified as a Scuba Instructor in Mozambique. She began training scientists, police officers, firefighters, and archaeologists, and eventually helped 12 women get their Master's degrees and PhDs in marine conservation and coastal management. She soon became the first female president of the ocean conservation group Bitonga Divers.
In 2014, she helped train a team of archaeologists that found the first slave ship ever recovered off the country’s coast, which has since been brought to to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
From her perspective, the ocean is essential to life in coastal Mozambique, fostering the local economy by providing food, jobs, and tourism.
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“It’s beneficial because it’s very difficult to find jobs here,” Dykman said. “But it’s a tourism area, so there’s lot of opportunity for people to get involved in the diving industry. It opened up a lot of employment for Mozambicans. They can now build their own houses, and open bank accounts and take care of their families, which didn’t happen before.”
Now she’s taking these stories to New York for World Oceans Day on June 8 as part of an event hosted by the United Nations that brings together global marine advocates. The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day is “Gender and the Oceans,” and the UN is hosting dozens of events to explore the topic. In particular, the organization is asking how gender equality can be prioritized in marine conservation and management efforts.
Globally, the oceans are facing an alarming array of threats.
More than a third of fish species are being overfished. Bycatch, when massive nets inadvertently catch the wrong species, kills millions of animals annually.
Warming ocean temperatures are devastating coral reef, undermining polar ecosystems that depend on ice, and disrupting the migration patterns of a variety of species.
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The oceans are also acidifying as they absorb carbon dioxide, which makes it harder for crustaceans to form shells and leads to widespread deoxygenation.
Dead zones created by industrial pollution are hollowing out parts of the ocean, ocean plastic, which terrorizes marine life, could soon outweigh the mass of all ocean fish, and noise pollution from industrial activity is threatening the long-term survival of marine species.
At the same time, fishermen are being widely exploited, many boats on the high seas enslave laborers, and even cruise ships are major sources of pollution.
Countries are beginning to take these threats seriously. The UN recently formed a global pact to fight ocean plastic, countries are creating protocols to stop overfishing, exploitation on the high seas is being investigated and punished, and efforts to stop industrial pollution are underway.
A lot more has to be done, though, including rapidly curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
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Dykman’s story is a reminder of how important the oceans are. They provide jobs for millions of people globally and feed billions more.
Ensuring that environmental and ethical standards are enforced on the high seas is crucial for their long-term survival.
“My experience with the ocean, what it has done for me, all the opportunity it has provided me,” Dykman said, “I hope it inspires young women and girls.”
Join the United Nations and Oceanic Global this World Oceans Day to call for gender equality on the high seas.