From Scandinavia to the Tropics: Advocating for the Necessity to Protect our Oceans

BY EROL ISMETOV

Last week, the United Nations Youth Association brought some tropical vibes to wintry Aalborg. The topic Coral Reefs and Denmark: Looking beyond the Island Paradise raised some issues of international concern regarding the health of our oceans in the era of climate change.

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A mixed audience of students, professors, divers and citizens keen to know more about the topic attended a short lecture that opened the door for debate about the future of coral reefs and the oceans. Consequently, UNYA screened the Oscar-shortlisted documentary Chasing Coral (2017) to illustrate the points made during the lecture.

The focus of the event was to raise awareness about the importance of coral reefs for the oceans and the economy across the globe. The need to keep our oceans healthy and work for greener policies that help combat human-induced climate change became even more evident in the mass coral bleaching events that took place in 2014, 2015 and 2017. They were the longest and deadliest events in recorded history and affected the reefs all around the world.

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Saxon Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

These deadly events represent an environmental disaster and are not something that started in the long and distant past. They were first documented in our lifetime. In the 1980s, the first ever global coral bleaching event was recorded by scientists. However, this was only the first sign of what was to come a few years later, in the 1990s, 2000s and now again in the 2010s. Coral bleaching events are now predicted to become stronger, deadlier and more destructive, due to human-induced climate change. Bleaching occurs when the water temperature rises above normal. One or two degrees Celsius above average is more than enough to trigger the deadly event. With higher temperatures, corals stress and they expel the microorganisms that recover them, which give the vivid colours that corals have and which provide them with almost 90% of their food. In this case, corals turn into a ghostly white skeleton, which will die in a few days if the waters don’t cool down.

Corals are microscopic jellyfish-kind-of-like organisms that can be soft or hard. Soft corals are often confused with plants and hard corals with rocks, but this is not the case and they are far more than that. Hard corals create a hard limestone covering where they grow. Over time, these microscopic animals can create a structure the size of a house. When many coral colonies grow together, they build a reef. The vastness that these structures can achieve can be appreciated even from space. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the most spectacular example of it, stretching for more than 2600 km. off the North-Eastern coast of Australia. To put things into perspective, its size is comparable to the distance between Aalborg and Istanbul.

Reefs provide food and protection for the communities that live in, on and around them. Globally, it is estimated that almost one billion people live in a proximity of less than 100 km. to a coral reef. Moreover, these ecosystems are extremely rich in biodiversity. They occupy less than 0,1% of the Earth’s surface but are home to more than 25% of all marine life. In addition, they are extremely beneficial to the economies of the surrounding countries, in that they provide abundant sources of food and fish, which these countries rely upon. But not only that, they also provide a very good incentive for European countries, such as Denmark, by selling fishing licenses to them. Also, coral reefs provide protection from natural phenomena, such as storms and tsunamis.

There are several problems that coral reefs face today; from coral bleaching, rising sea levels and water acidification, to outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and overfishing. The most urgent problems appear to be those triggered by climate change, such as coral bleaching. This problem causes the coral to starve to death. In the short run, a bleached coral can recover if the water temperature decreases. If the water doesn’t cool down, a continuous period of bleaching will kill the coral. A dead coral means a dead reef and dead reefs lead to a dead ecosystem. The question is then, can we afford to have a whole ecosystem extinct? If we can’t save this ecosystem, what does this mean for the next ecosystem to be threatened?

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Kaafu Atoll, Maldives

Healthy oceans are a global concern. One of the few strategies where the international community has found common ground is that we need to reduce our carbon emissions because they have a direct impact on reefs and oceans. With this presentation, UNYA proved that the science behind coral reefs and the health of the oceans is not a closed field of study accessible only by the scientists who are already in it, but also by ordinary citizens who want to have a positive impact on the planet.

By presenting a topic that is more often than not relegated to the scientific community, UNYA incited the attendees to take action in their everyday life to reduce their environmental footprint. To achieve this positive effect you don’t need to go far away in the tropics to provide hands-on assistance. The small gestures, such as reducing your water and energy consumption, can have a big impact on the planet if they influence the people around you to take action too. By knowing more about this topic and spreading the word, the people around you are more likely to be influenced and to get involved in reducing their environmental footprint.

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How do the actions of an individual in Denmark affect what is happening in Hawaii, the Maldives, French Polynesia or the Great Barrier Reef in Australia? With this question in mind, UNYA gave an overview of the present situation in the oceans around the world regarding the dangers for coral reefs, their importance for the global community and the involvement of international organisations to protect reefs and oceans against climate change. It bridged the gap between the problems that tropical and Scandinavian countries face. It raised awareness about the health of our oceans by making the topic relevant for an audience in Denmark. Ultimately, it addressed the challenges that every member of society faces when they take actions that have an impact on the planet.

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EVENT PHOTOS: Michaela Higgins Sørensen and Alex Berg
UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY: Erol Ismetov

What is Coming Up: UNYA-Aalborg Calendar of Events

Here you can find a summary of upcoming events that volunteers from UNYA Aalborg have organized for you this semester. The calendar will be updated regularly, so add this article to your bookmarks!

The organizers would appreciate that, in case you want to attend any of the events, you press ‘Going’ on them on Facebook. All of them are free and open to everyone.

We hope to see you soon!

 

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What: Successes and challenges: Can International Development Cooperation Do the Job?

When: 15/3/2018 (Thursday), 17:00

Where: Huset i Hasserisgade, Aalborg

What to expect: During this event, you will get the chance to learn more about international development through the eyes of an expert, who has worked for the United Nations for more than 35 years.

Our speaker will be Mr. Finn Reske-Nielsen, former UN diplomat whose previous appointments include Timor-Leste, Zambia, Papua New Guinea, New York, Geneva, Namibia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Amongst others, he has held positions such as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Governance Support, Development and Humanitarian Coordination in UNMIT. Mr. Reske-Nielsen will be more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

 

 

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What: Refugee stories

When: 8/3/2018 (Thursday), 17:00

Where: International House North Denmark, Aalborg

What to expect: In the recent years, ‘refugee’ became one of the most frequently used words. Refugees are all over the media, the political debates and also in our personal conversations. But how many of you have actually talked to a refugee?

During this event, you will get the chance to learn about the stories of refugees from Syria and Eritrea. You will get to hear about their personal experiences, including how their lives changed when they arrived and settled down in Denmark.

The event is free and open to all. However, due to the sensitivity of the topic, we would like to limit the number of participants. Therefore make sure to reserve a spot here. There are only 25 seats available, so be quick! In case the event is fully booked, you can still get a chance to attend. If someone with a reservation does not show up at the venue until 16:55, the unclaimed tickets will be given to the ones without a ticket on a first come, first served basis.

 

 

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What: Student Talks: Enlightening Sustainability Projects

When: 27/2/2018 (Tuesday), 17:30

Where: International House North Denmark, Aalborg

What to expect: The United Nations Youth Association of Aalborg is happy to engage students in its Sustainable Development campaign.

In this event, students enrolled in sustainability courses at Aalborg University will present the projects they have prepared on Sustainable Development. You will get a chance to find out how students can contribute to the local, national and global initiatives to tackle climate change and environmental degradation, to benefit societies and economies.

Some of the presented projects gained the attention of and are now considered by the public and private institutions and some will serve as the base for further research. The students will be more than happy to answer your questions regarding sustainable development.

 

 

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What: Coral Reefs and Denmark: Looking beyond the Island Paradise

When: 13/2/2018 (Tuesday), 17:30

Where: International House North Denmark, Aalborg

What to expect: During this event, you will find out about the importance of coral reefs, how are these extraordinary ecosystems affected by climate change and why it is necessary to protect our oceans.

We will start with a short presentation about this topic and why it is problem for people everywhere; not just in the exotic destinations where coral reefs grow. We will also look into the issue from a Danish perspective. As a low lying country, Denmark is also affected by the rising sea levels, and the health of the oceans on the other side of the world affects directly the citizens of Denmark too.

A screening of the documentary ‘Chasing Coral’ will follow, which was shortlisted to win an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2018.

Fighting Food Waste in Aalborg and Bringing People Together with a Smile

BY ASSEL ALASHPEKOVA

In the line of promoting sustainable development, which UNYA has been following since September 2017, our Aalborg journalists went on the hunt for inspiring stories to share about people trying to make a difference in Denmark. This difference comes from the need to help the communities where we are living in, promoting a more sustainable living and raising awareness about practices that are jeopardizing the planet.

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The charming project manager, Stella

Recently, UNYA interviewed the project manager of Café Smile on Skipper Clements Gade 9, Aalborg. Her name is Stella and she opened the Café in September 2017. Café Smile has been offering an enjoyable atmosphere with a hot cup of tea, coffee or delicious cakes prepared by the volunteers, and at the same time fighting food waste by giving away free food and groceries to everyone interested.

  • How has Stella started the Café and where did the idea come from?

Today, the café welcomes students, locals, internationals, refugees and everyone who has an interest in having a cosy evening in the centre of Aalborg. However, the endeavours to make the café what it is today had started far before September. Stella’s passion and career as a volunteer to help refugees started in a hotel in Aalborg. She was allocating incoming refugees in the hotel rooms for some period before they get the permanent apartment or house. The hotel possessed a family atmosphere for refugees, and the volunteers there worked to keep the peaceful and welcoming atmosphere among new coming refugees.

“There was a café-based gathering where refugees were offered a coffee, tea and some cakes and snacks, and played games, while they enjoyed the hotel together”, she says.

Later, the number of refugees coming to Aalborg and looking for a place to stay decreased and there was no need to keep the hotel as a hosting venue. Meanwhile, the necessity to keep refugees in an amiable atmosphere in Aalborg city is still relevant.

The Copenhagen Churches Integration Services had shown interest in establishing the “café-based gathering for internationals for Aalborg”. Stella was then called in to manage this endeavour.

“I started to think about a café, what the opportunities, the functions are. In the beginning, I did not even know how many people could come and be attracted, but now they come to know and then come back later”, she says. 

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The food is ready by Syrian volunteer cook of the day

So what does the café do?

It is a café serving different kinds of food and beverages, such as coffee, tea, cakes, lunch meals, dinner (vegetarian and non-vegetarian), sandwiches, burgers etc. It works twice per week, renting the place on Wednesdays and Fridays.

  • On Wednesdays, it serves free sandwiches, cakes and drinks.
  • On Fridays, you can find free products discarded from supermarkets, such as vegetables, fruits, breads and a wide variety of products to fill your fridge with healthy options throughout the week. All of these are given away in addition to free dinner.

Café Smile is targeting mostly students, both international and local, refugees, au pairs and spouses moving to Denmark. The café is a hub of different cultures where people can enjoy the food, the conversation and the great company.

However, this is not the end of its stunning offers. The café has multiple free board games for guests and café members to play. It is run by volunteers cooking and serving for the clients. Everyone can easily stay for a longer period and enjoy the day in the hyggelig atmosphere of the café.

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A pleasant dinner on Friday evening

Usually, there are around 20-40 people coming to the Café on Wednesdays and Fridays. The café has already led some events, e.g. music night, games night, pre-Christmas event. Those days, the café attracts even more people.

 

  • What about volunteers of the Café?

Approximately ten volunteers work on a permanent basis with flexible schedules. Other volunteers engage infrequently and are willing to assist when they have free time. Some come specifically on Wednesdays or on Fridays, others come twice per month. Some volunteers are from churches, others from universities, and there are no age restrictions. Most volunteers are students, both local and international, open-minded and sociable to engage with the guests. Stella prepares the ideas for cooking and volunteers do the job. In certain cases, a volunteer cook has been assured to prepare special meals. Since this place is a melting pot of cultures, Stella sometimes arranges special ethnic meals to be prepared by volunteers. They pour their heart and soul into preparing something from their culture and share it for free with the guests of the café. And what UNYA has been able to taste so far has left us drooling and looking forward to the next meal!

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Some of the cheerful volunteers of the Café
  • How does the café manage with giving away the free groceries?

There is an agreement with the churches that have been already engaged in free groceries sharing in Aalborg.  The products come from the supermarkets and other stores, gathered three times per week. One church gives away the products on Mondays, the other on Wednesdays, and Café Smile on Fridays. The groceries to be donated are carefully selected by people specifically entitled to check and deliver products to the points. Thus, the free groceries that you will be getting home with you are still in good condition to prepare yummy meals and keep your diet healthy throughout the week.

  • How does Stella foresee the future of the Café?

Café Smile has been running up to now as a completely free of charge place to get your drinks and food. Stella and her team are hoping for the café to reveal successful operation. They have now found a new permanent venue to offer you their yummy products at very affordable prices and to offer discounts for beverages for students, internationals and people in need. Therefore, you are very welcome to go to try it for free during this period. The Friday free groceries are not going to be continued in a permanent place but will be still offered in other venues.

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Some music after dinner

Once they move to the permanent venue, they will continue creating a peaceful atmosphere for those coming from abroad and wanting to meet locals, share their culture and alleviate the costs of life in Denmark. They believe that a “smile is the shortest distance between two people. It creates a contact even if the language is different”. And, as Stella says, they want to “meet people as they are”, and they DO!

Café Smile is open Wednesdays and Fridays, 16:00 – 20:00. Look for it on Skipper Clements Gade 9 and follow them on their Facebook page for updates on the events and offers they have.

 The UNYA team wishes an outstanding growth to the team of Café Smile and believes that their humanitarian performance will inspire other global initiatives towards the formation of a more peaceful and harmonious society!

Following one of the missions of UNYA, to promote and raise awareness about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the following SDGs are identified to have been addressed by Café Smile: