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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Politics of the sea: Counting ecological cost to water bodies

As efforts are being made towards restoring the ecosystem, different concepts and ideologies are springing up. While some are geared towards improving the quality of life and proffering sustainable solutions, others lean towards the continuous profiting of big corporations at the expense of the wellbeing of local communities.

HOMEF School of Ecology
Participants at the HOMEF School of Ecology

Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) from August 24 to 25, 2021 hosted a School of Ecology session on Politics of the Sea. The session, which focused on the technicalities and politics of the Blue Economy, was aimed at promoting a cross-sectoral understanding of the Blue Economy concept.

During the session, the Executive Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, in his welcome address, called for an end to ocean pollution as well as sea piracy, even as he emphasised the need for the protection of the aquatic ecosystem.

“We want to protect our fisheries, we want to protect our aquatic ecosystem, and we want to call for an end to pollution, sea piracy and human right abuse from security agents in our waters. We are calling for the use of marine resources for our citizens in a sustainable way.

“We are calling for an end to seeing and treating our ocean, rivers and creeks as waste dumps. We are especially calling for a halt in investment in searching for new fossil fuels, expansion of oil wells in our water bodies and other frontal basins,” said Bassey.

One of the speakers, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dr Dakuku Peterside, lamented the illegal and unreported activities carried out at the Gulf of Guinea which have made the Gulf the most dangerous waterways in the world. In his presentation titled “Security in the Gulf of Guinea”, he stated that the unique ecosystem has attracted global attention and consequent dangers in the waterways.

“For many reasons, the Gulf of Guinea is a place of interest internationally. The Gulf of Guinea is a place of interest continentally. It is a place of interest to those who are into shipping. It is a place of interest, for those who are into fishing. So, for diverse reasons, the ecosystem of the Gulf of Guinea is unique. It is the third largest in the world.

“The Gulf of Guinea accounts for 2.7% of fossil natural gas reserve globally, and it is one of the richest fishing grounds globally. This is because some of the fish spices you may find in the Gulf of Guinea may not be found elsewhere in the world. So, it’s a unique ecosystem,” he said.

Executive Director of Lokiaka Women Development and Resources Centre, Martha Agbani, in her presentation noted that oil pollution is particularly threatening rivers and other water bodies in Ogoniland. She noted that various food products have gone into extinction because of oil pollution.

“The Ogoni People are rich in diverse culture and varieties of food but the depths of pollution in the area have pushed some of these into extinction. This pollution has been left unattended to over the years and the government seems to act like it is not aware or that it lacks the capacity to deal with the problem. The encroachment and rapid invasion of Nipa Palm is also another issue that is threatening the health of our aquatic ecosystem.

“We see people go into the river to fish and return empty handed with their legs and net soiled with oil. At Lokiakia Foundation, we decided to come up with ideas to replant mangroves in the Ogoniland pending when the clean-up will commence. We now see things like periwinkles return to some parts of the river as the land is being treated and mangroves begin to regrow. At least this little quantity can serve individuals and families for their immediate use. We see mangrove planting as means of reopening the river live for more use.”

Bassey in his paper presentation titled “Politics of Turbulent Waters” noted that the position of Africa as the centre of the world but added that the challenge of being in the centre is that it is very accessible from every part of the world which makes it easy to be exploited.

“Africa is extremely exploited, the amount of money that comes into Africa is less than the resources that leave to other parts of the world. We are appealing that the young people become actively involved in nonpartisan politics and what I’d call the politics of listening.

“When the ocean warms up because of global warming, fish suffer and die because they cannot survive in that temperature, some migrate to colder regions and habitats, which means less catch for our fishers.”

African leaders believe that the Blue Economy offers limitless opportunities for resource extraction and investments. According to the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Blue Economy in the African context covers both freshwater and marine spaces, including oceans, seas, coasts, lakes, rivers, and underground water. It encompasses a range of productive sectors, including fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, shipbuilding, energy, bioprospecting, and underwater mining and related activities.

Participants at the School of Ecology believe that activities in some of these sectors – like underwater mining and related activities – will undermine the ecological integrity of African freshwater and marine ecosystems.

According to them, a look at the water bodies polluted by oil spills and other industrial wastes presents clear evidence that human activities have dealt harmful blows on aquatic ecosystems, in addition to the impacts of climate change and the massive destruction of mangrove forests.

Bassey in closing the session stated HOMEF’s concerns for the Blue Economy concept under what he titled “The blues of Blue Economy”.

His words: “The push for a Blue Economy is just not what it claims to be. It is rather a push for deriving of economic gains from our freshwater and marine ecosystems. It means a fundamental shift in the way streams, rivers, lakes, and the oceans are perceived. The Blue Economy is a top-down concept that claims to enhance the living standards and livelihoods of the people.

“Investments in marine biotech research especially for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, bioenergy and ‘new’ food is expected to reach $5.9 billion by 2022 and investment in this sector can raise peculiar problems for Africa with its largely lax and seven compromised biosafety regimes. Illegal fishing and maritime insecurity will become more pronounced with the enthronement of the Blue Economy.”

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