Ecosystem restoration, sustainable mangrove conservation needed to combat pollution, natural disasters


With the current spate of flooding ravaging the entire country and especially the Niger Delta region coupled with environmental degradation occasioned by decades of crude oil exploration and spills to the natural ecology, environmental activists have advocated the urgent need for ecosystem restoration and sustainable national plan for mangrove conservation.

A professor of Biomonitoring and Restoration Ecology, Department of Fisheries, University of Port Harcourt and Coordinator, Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Prof. Nenibarini Zabbey, made the call while speaking at a roundtable organised for journalists by the Home of Mother Health Foundation (HOMEF) with the theme: Examining the Health Of Niger Delta Coastline And Inland Waters.

He said ecosystem restoration and sustainable national plan for mangrove conservation, citizens stewardship, awareness and responsible behaviour, investment in taxonomy training and the establishment of at least two natural history museums, were critical to the mitigation of environmental disasters such as the flooding that has sacked various communities in the Niger Delta and other residents across the country.

He also recommended an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as critical component to mitigating the devastating impact of spills against what he described as ‘paper packs, as well as an urgent need to build capacity in deep sea monitoring researches and strengthening of the capacity of the National Oil Spills Detection and Remediation Agency (NOSDRA) through trainings, funding and modern infrastructure to monitor and coordinate offshore oil spill response.

Zabbey also stressed that there was an urgent need for a strong and effective integrated coastal zone management system and sustained investment in low-technology, pro-poor utility technologies for Nipa Palm and water hyacinth to mitigate their spread.

Speaking further, he said the theme of the roundtable was aimed at providing a broad analysis of the health state of inland and coastal waters of the Niger Delta region with illustrative case studies and data-driven recommendations to facilitate sustainable development and management.

He defined the coast or the coastline or seashore, as the area where land meets the ocean and extends from the ocean inland, as far as marine processes immediately affect the environment; also defined as ‘a strip of land of indefinite length and width (maybe tens of kilometres) that extends from the seashore inland to the first major change in terrain features.’

Zabbey also explained that the inland waters also known as internal waters including lakes, canals, rivers, inlets and bays that are nearest to the shores of a nation and subject to its complete sovereignty, while coastal geomorphology of Nigeria constituted four geomorphic zones stretching 853 kilometres.

He equally identified loss of livelihoods, increasing vulnerability to the impact of climate change, weakening resilience and driving maladaptation exacerbated by huge oil theft and
artisanal refining, obnoxious fishing practices, as the activities that negatively impact the Niger Delta environment.

“Also of major concern among the many factors degrading inland and coastal waters in the Niger Delta are oil and plastic pollution, municipal solid waste, ineffective and inefficient sewage disposal, hazardous emissions from industries and biological wastes from hospitals, invasive species, deforestation, land reclamation and conversion, upstream built infrastructure (dams along the Niger River), as well as dredging and sand mining,” he said.

On plastic pollution, he said each Nigerian generates 0.1 kilogramme of plastic waste daily amounting to 200,000 tons of plastics per day, adding that less than 12 per cent of the resulting waste entering the recycling stream, while over 80 per cent of the plastic waste ends up at the dumpsites and in the waterways.

Citing a 2017 report by Lebreton and others, he also lamented that the Niger Delta region remains one of the most polluted places on earth from oil and plastic pollution, adding that with inputs from the top 20 polluting rivers in 2015; the Imo and Kwa Ibo River were the most polluted with estimated annual inputs of 21,500 tons and 11,900 tons.

He also stated that with regard to oil pollution, the Niger Delta is the coastal pollution hotspot of Nigeria and one of the most polluted places on earth from oil, insisting that oil spills, waste dumping, and gas flaring had remained recurrent problems associated with the oil industry in the Niger Delta.

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“An estimated 10 million to 13 million tons of hydrocarbons have been reportedly spilled into the Niger Delta in the last 50 years. During the period, over 77 per cent of spilled hydrocarbons were not recovered and there are over 2000 oil-polluted legacy sites in the Niger Delta.

“Besides the operational causes of oil spills (discharges from near-shore operations, urban and industrial effluents discharge, ballast water from oil tankers, accidental spills during loading, equipment failure at loading sites), there are many incidents of sabotage, just as soot impacts river systems.”

Citing a 2016 report by Oti and Asu on offshore and deep sea oil production, he revealed that Nigeria has the second largest oil reserves in Africa, estimated as 37 billion barrels adding that the oil reserves were concentrated in the Niger Delta and the borderline continental shelf and that over 1 billion barrels of crude oil were discovered offshore of Bayelsa State in the Central Niger Delta, among others.

Also in his presentation titled: Ocean, Energy And The Future We Want, Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Philip Jakpor, said the ocean was beyond literal description because it feeds the entire humanity with aquatic life and salt, connects countries through sea transport and entertains people globally through tourism.

“Therefore, our well-being depends on a healthy ocean, but there is pressure on the ocean and
it is growing with rising plastic pollution, as over 500 billion plastic bags are being produced yearly. More has been produced in the last decade exceeding that of last century.

“One million plastic bottles purchased every minute in addition to the world’s usage of 500 million plastic bags each year, with at least 8 million tons of plastics ending up in the ocean. By 2040 the oceans will receive 29 million metric tons yearly

“There has been excessive warming in the last 50 years, as the earth absorbs 90 per cent excess heat, while higher temperatures lead to melting of ice, which in turn leads to rise in sea levels, floods and storms, among others.
He maintained that besides absorption of up to 25 per cent of water into the ocean, overfishing –fish stock in West Africa will decline by 85 per cent and that with oil pollution, unimaginable volume of crude oil spilled into the ocean during exploration and exploration result to destruction of aquatic life.

“In Nigeria, NOSDRA recorded a total of 4,486 cases of oil spills, amounting to 242,193 barrels of oil from 2015 to 2021. The impact of the ocean industry is largely focused on environmental issues but there are also social and human rights dimensions. The Platform for Oceans and Human Rights is raising awareness on adverse human rights issues in the industry.

“Shipping is the backbone of the global economy, with over 80 per cent of the world’s trade by volume being transported by sea. Human rights issues arise across the entire lifecycle of a ship from design, finance and ordering through building and operation, to breaking and recycling,” he stated.

Jakpor recalled that in 2018, a panel for ocean sustainability was set up to work towards building momentum for sustainable ocean economy in which effective protection goes with sustainable production with a target of 2030 and that Nigeria only joined the Panel on June 1, 2022

“To address the issues, people working in and impacted by ocean industries were included, represented and heard in the conversations around the current and future use of the ocean. Ocean actors, both private and public apply up to date knowledge and ideas in addressing social and human rights issues related to ocean industries.

“Ocean based industries are equipped to fulfill their human rights responsibilities to those impacted including local communities, workers in direct operation and in value chains such as women and girls, coastal communities, indigenous peoples, and rights defenders, among others,” he added.

In their presentations, Steven Oduware and Communication Officer of HOMEF, Kome Odhomor, canvassed robust engagement with members of the public, government officials, civil society organisations (CSOs), media practitioners, environment activists to work together, in telling stories, sharing experience, learning, organising, promoting knowledge at the local level through community dialogues, monitoring and trainings.

They urged sustained action, especially by journalists in campaigning for change or revision of policies, plans of action or of the provisions in the legally binding instruments, as well as drawing the attention of members of the public and concerned authorities to policy or instrument failure or poor performance.

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