The “Save Lekki Coastland” could be considered a coast-to-coast conservation intervention to protect the Lagos coastlines beginning from the Lafiaji coastline situated wholly or partially within 100 meters of the high-water mark.
Lagos, being the most populous and industrialised city in Nigeria, is a place of waters occasioned by the Atlantic Ocean. Lafiaji, however, is a remote location in Eti-Osa Local Government Area of the state encompassing diverse ethnic groups including the Yorubas, Ibos, Hausa as well as immigrants from Togo and Benin Republic.
Pidgin English, which is an adulterated form of the English Language, is commonly used for oral communication among the residents. Occupying a total area of about 0.5 km² with a population of about 12,000 people, the inhabitants are low-income earners with women and children making the higher percentage of the population. The richer women are those who engage in petty trading while most of the women are idle, relying on their non-educated husbands. The environment is very peaceful.
The head of the community known as the Oba who is highly respected among the people had made a law that anyone found fighting will be immediately sent out of the community. Many live in wood-constructed houses sparing only a few trees where the sunbirds build their nests. Domestic animals like chicken and goats are found roaming the streets. A community borehole, a mini market, mosques, football viewing centre and churches are the points of meeting.
Environmentalists have reiterated the need to safeguard coastal areas and the people that inhabit them from the effects of climate change. The vanishing coastlines of Lagos have resulted in the disappearance of beaches indicating a longstanding problem of coastal neglect in Nigeria.
Shipwrecks, sand mining activities, indiscriminate fishing activities are some of the characteristics that translate into the devastating effects on inland resources and those from the marine coastal zones. Lafiaji is a victim of this menace. The popularly known Lafiaji Beach, which was a renowned place for tourism, is now a shadow of itself.
Another discrediting issue is abandoned facilities on the shore – ship wrecks. According to the Merchant Act of 2007, every ship owner is responsible for the removal of his vessel. This regulation is apparently not complied to as wrecks sink into the water bed, where they disrupt the marine ecology.
The recent rise in local sea level and extensive coastal erosion in the area calls for urgent action. A well-integrated management approach is therefore required for the protection of critical coastal habitats. The protection of endemic and endangered species and their habitats as a national heritage is crucial, and hence the need for an intervention.
Some environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) and LUFASI are grieved by the many human activities leading to Lagos coastal area degradation considering the present and future deleterious consequences.
The current state of the coastlines is precarious and needs urgent action. Beginning with the Lafiaji Beach, this is need to mitigate habitat loss due to sandfilling of the shore for construction, pollution and indiscriminate fishing because coastal areas play an important role in both Nigeria’s socio-economic well-being and that of its wildlife. Pressures on coastal resources have led to the declining population of many species such as shorebirds, sea turtles, and beach mice.
A place like Lafiaji where untreated raw sewage is released conveniently into the sea poses a high enviromental health risk. Litter is swamping the oceans and washing up on beaches. It kills wildlife, looks disgusting, posses hazard to people’s health and costs millions to clean up.
Researchers have explained that turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and the bags block their stomachs, often leading to death from starvation. Seabirds mistake floating plastic litter for food, and over 90% of fulmars found dead around the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs. Plastics never biodegrade. They simply break down into small pieces and do not disappear. Micro-plastic particles are now found inside filter feeding animals and among sand grains on beaches.
Another devastating activity on Lagos coastal areas which is not peculiar to Lafiaji is hand-picking of shells. Environmentalists have found that the removal of shells from beaches could damage ecosystems and endanger organisms that rely on shells for their survival. Seashells are a major source of organic deposits to the seafloor and make up the majority of limestones and chalks. Excess sediment and nutrient runoff from land-based human activities are considered serious threats to coastal and marine ecosystems by most conservation practitioners, resource managers, fishers, and other “downstream” resource users. Deleterious consequences of coastal runoff, including eutrophication and hypoxia, have been observed worldwide.
There should be a project strategically designed to tackle the aforementioned problems. The first line of action will be sensitisation of the members of the community in their own native language. A holistic environmental impact assessment should be carried out to asertain the current state of the coastline, followed by practical work like tree planting along the shores, cleaning and evacuation of abandoned materials, among others.
The critical situation demands the following interventions: protection and conservation of the coastal environment; equitable access to coastal public property; communication, education and public awareness; co-operative governance and partnerships; empowerment of women and youths in the community irrespective of educational status by engaging them through the elements of the project; mitigate the negative impacts of climate change and environmental degradation; present a capacity-building component for the holder of the project and networks; skills and capacity development; and knowledge sharing activities.
Key activities to do would be: make the Lafiaji Beach accessible; rehabilitate 100 hectares of dunes’ clean estuaries; create coastal community parks; install waste bins; plant 200 coconut seedlings; regularly clean up coastal area, remove illegal and abandoned structures; improve access to and along the coast; remove invasive alien vegetation; ensure compliance and monitoring, and rehabilitation of degraded areas which include dunes, estuaries; and, create job opportunities for residents.
If there could be an urgent intervention by all the concerned, improved livelihood of the members of the community will be achieved at the end of the work since accessibility to the beach by visitors means increase in sales and services. More importantly, dwellers of Lafiaji (basically women and youths) who will be directly engaged in the project will go home smiling each day not only because of the stipends that will be paid them but also as the work will build their capacity and offer them self-confidence.
Marine species at the brink of extinction are expected to bounce back at the end of the day. Also, a sustainable relationship can then be established between the organisation and stakeholders having a common interest for nature.
By Ojonugwa Ekpah (Conservation Officer, Technical, Nigerian Conservation Foundation)