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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Ecologists seek new marine protected area spanning Nigeria, DRC, Cameroon

A virtual meeting on freshwater and marine ecosystems that held from on June 8 to 9, 2020 rose with a unanimous call for the creation of a marine protected area that incorporates territories in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon.

Marine ecotourism
A marine ecosystem. Photo credit: Octavio Aburto

The freshwater and marine ecosystems spot, according to the participants, will be referred to as “Freshwater and Marine Protected Areas in the Gulf of Guinea and the Congo Basin”.

The School of Ecology reviewed the threats to aquatic ecosystems in the region and examined ways of monitoring and protecting them. Participants at the webinar included speakers from Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and South Africa and stakeholders made up of fishers, civil society organisation members, students and academics. They shared knowledge and experiences in monitoring and advocating for conservation of the threatened aquatic ecosystem.

The convergence established the need to support the preservation of aquatic (marine and freshwater) ecosystems and livelihoods in the Congo Basin area as well as in the Gulf of Guinea and to empower fishers and other community members to actively monitor and protect their ecosystems.

Speakers at the convergence included Prof. Gabriel Umoh (Nigeria), Ako Amadi (Nigeria), Dr. Joe Alagoa (Nigeria), Sherelee Odayar (South Africa), Emmanuel Musuyu (DRC), Xavier Ndjamo (Cameroon), Salome Elolo (DRC), Irikefe Dafe (Nigeria), Ken Henshaw (Nigeria) and Babawale Obayanju (Nigeria).

At the opening of the convergence, Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, stressed: “It is time to raise the capacity of our fishers to monitor aquatic ecosystems, share knowledge, map threatened and valuable species, network with other fishers within and across borders. ‘Water is life’ is not a mere slogan. It is a declaration that must be fought for. Many see water as a resource that is limitless, conveniently forgetting that only three percent of Earth’s water is freshwater and only 1.2 percent can be used as drinking water while the rest are inaccessible in ice caps, permafrost or way down in the ground.”

Topics x-rayed at the two-day convergence included the dynamics and benefits of freshwater and marine ecosystems; tools for sustaining ocean ecosystems and marine resources; current and impending threats to freshwater and marine ecosystems; marine protected areas in South Africa; big dams and national/regional disruptions (the Inga III dam); and gender dimensions in freshwater ecosystems protection in DRC.

HOMEF introduced to the participants a recently prepared policy paper on the need to establish freshwater and marine protected areas in the Congo Basin and the Gulf of Guinea. Also introduced was a Guide to Aquatic Ecosystems Monitoring, Reporting, Advocacy and Organising which the partner countries as well as Nigeria were encouraged to adapt and use in FishNet Dialogues to equip fishers to monitor and protect the aquatic ecosystem.

In a discussion on the theme of the World Ocean Day 2020 – “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean” – the convergence called for a careful consideration of what may arise from so-called innovative use of the oceans which may herald the up scaling of plans to implement concepts such as the Blue Economy, which epitomises the commodification of nature and may lead to partitioning and grabbing of aquatic ecosystems with the attendant rise of extractive activities such as deep sea mining, marine biotechnology and bio-prospecting and geoengineering that further complicate the challenges faced by the world and especially coastal communities.

During the discussions, the following observations were made:

  • Most of the threats to aquatic ecosystems result from human activities such as poor waste disposal, dredging, noise and oil pollution, poaching and overfishing.
  • Conversion of wetlands for infrastructure and expansion of urban centres pose a serious threat to aquatic biodiversity.
  • There is a disconnect between research outcomes and policy. Most research works are not targeted at the real issues faced by those whose livelihoods depend on the aquatic ecosystems and the outcomes of most research merely end up in journals and libraries.
  • In some places (e.g. South Africa) Marine Protected Areas have impacted negatively on artisanal fishers who are excluded in the scheme of things due to a fractured policy view of prevailing culture and sense of place.
  • Big dams (e.g. the Inga111 Dam on the Congo River in DRC) negatively impact aquatic biodiversity, loss of livelihoods/displacements and expose the country into avoidable financial debt.

The convergence resolved that:

  • Freshwater and Marine Protected Areas should be established in Nigeria, the Congo Basin and in the Gulf of Guinea.
  • Policies on protected areas and conservation approaches must be gender sensitive, socially inclusive and context specific.
  • Traditional knowledge and norms should be integrated into all biodiversity conservation processes.
  • Governments should fund research and institutions/agencies related to freshwater and marine ecosystems and encourage research that address the real challenges faced by fishers and coastal communities. The research outcomes should be fully utilised in policy development and implementation.
  • Movements and networks (such as FishNet Alliance) on freshwater and marine ecosystems should be formed and/or encouraged across the Congo Basin and the Gulf of Guinea.
  • Polluting extractive activities in the waters should be banned
  • The Africa Development Bank should not fund the Inga III dam in DRC and should halt further considerations as they did in the case of the coal powered plant at Lamu, Kenya.
  • Poaching of fish on our continental shelf by foreigners should be urgently brought to a halt.

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