By Reuben Sei Waylaun
Cognizant of the essential role of oceans to people and livelihoods, participants at the Blue Oceans Conference in Monrovia are strategizing on how to stop marine pollution on the African continent and the world over.
According to statistics, oceans are essential to the stability of the climate and they absorb 25% of CO2 emissions and marine ecosystem are among the most important on the planet for addressing climate. The oceans are also home to extraordinary biodiversity.
First of its kind, the Government of Liberia in partnership with the Embassy of Sweden in Monrovia and Conservation International is holding a Blue Oceans Conference in Monrovia.
The conference is focusing on marine pollution, climate change, sustainable fishing, and the blue economy, the conference is also identifying innovative solutions to ensure the long-term sustainability of Africa’s marine environment and to reverse the decline in the health of the ocean for people, the planet and prosperity.
The ocean has a large depository of plastic debris and other pollutants including riverine discharges, agricultural, sediment, solid waste and agricultural run-offs. In addition, coastal and marine habitats and resources are under threat from pollution, over-harvesting of resources, inappropriate development in the coastal zone, and poor inland and land-based management.
Based on this, the conference is providing a platform to identify ground-breaking solutions to ensure the sustainable management of the ecosystem, protecting beaches, because coastal and marine resources are key to the survival and it’s in direct alignment with Liberia National Development Agenda.
Making separate remarks at the official opening of the conference on Wednesday March 20, 2019 at a local hotel in Congo Town, various speakers recounted that oceans are vital to food security around the world and an estimated 3.2billion people on fish as a major source of animal protein.
It is estimated that two-third of countries in Africa have oceans (38 of 54 countries) and almost a quarter of the countries in Africa have more oceans than land (13 of 54 countries), including Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone
Making official opening statement, the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Gesler E. Murray said it’s a fact ocean, and the life they sustain, face threats more severe than at any time in history. And as West African nations, it is critical to lead the charge in advancing the responsible stewardship of their oceans and the sustainable management of the ocean resources.
“We are here because we owe a duty to our citizens – especially to the coastal communities. Not only to grow our economies and raise their standards of living but to do one better and give full consideration to the impacts that our development has on our oceans and the life that they sustain. It certainly takes an extra effort to develop strategies for growth in the context of a blue economy. We have to pause and consider, at every level of development, how our actions impact the natural world around us. But we can all appreciate that when we look at the long-term – the bigger picture – every investment we make to protect our oceans and marine resources is well-worth the immediate costs. And any measure taken to make development more sustainable is ultimately in the best interest of any national economy and every global citizen,” Minister Murray said.
Minister Murray further added “this is not only a Liberia problem – or West African problem. The growing threat to our oceans is affecting every person on earth, and the movement towards more “blue” economies is global. And we need to apply that global perspective – that wealth of knowledge and experiences – to our own efforts to manage our oceans and marine resources in a more sustainable manner. We share development challenges unique to our region. And we need to find ways – together – to usher in new technologies, business models and industries that work to restore the health of our oceans and advance the objectives of blue economic development. But that is all part of a larger effort – the global effort – to reverse the steady degradation that has ravaged our seas and oceans for decades.”
He wants the world to look to all West African nations as the fiercest defenders of the oceans and their resources, and as a shining example of how development and sustainable oceans management can go hand-in-hand.
Also speaking, Jessica Donovan-Allen, the Liberian Country Director at Conservation International encouraged everyone to rise to the occasion, together, to confront the challenges of marine pollution, climate change, sustainable fishing, and the Blue Economy.
“When fisheries are poorly managed, they collapse. When sea levels rise, costal businesses disappear. When coasts erode, houses crumble. When a single species disappears, the ecosystem changes. And when poor regulations are put in place, local fisherman like my father are out of a job,” she added.
“When I came to Liberia nearly 15 years-ago, I was awe-struck by the ocean’s abundance, by its beautiful coasts. Liberia has one of the last remaining in-tact coastal ecosystems. As Liberia’s beaches are used as dumpsites and bathrooms, as plastics wash ashore, as fish stocks are decimated by chemicals, dynamite, and mosquito nets, if we lose these natural resources, how do we not also lose ourselves? Honestly—-That’s what’s at stake,” she said.
According to her, there is a need to find and scale alternatives that are currently unavailable to 70% of Liberia’s population living along coastline.
A representative of the Liberia Maritime Authority said the conference is important because Liberia is the second largest flag state in the world with over four thousand vessels flying its flag over oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and other water bodies.
“Liberia is aware of the importance of combating and mitigating marine pollution, reducing emissions to limit climate change and ocean acidification and its critical role in setting and implementing policies to reach national target.
“The blue economy is a vital area in any nation that is blessed to possess the resource. Being a major asset to a nation and major investment in national development, it plays a critical role in the productivity and growth of a nation. The blue economy emphasizes the economic potential of ocean resources, ranging from fishing, natural resource extraction, to ecotourism,” he said.
The conference is graced by NaFAA, the EPA, among others national entities.
For his part, the Chairman of the National Steering Committee, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Executive Director, Nathaniel Blama, encouraged major policy makers, local and international to discuss challenges faced by the marine ecosystem as well as discuss ways in mitigating those challenges.
The EPA boss said it was now time Liberia joins the rest of the world in taking concrete actions to save the marine environment.
According to Mr. Blama, there are lots of problems confronting the ecosystem. He further said “a lot of time people have misused it, abused it and took it as a source of dumping ground. It has been misused; people see it as a dumping ground, but it is not. It is a major source of our livelihood and our survival. Until we can see it as that, it will continue to harm us and if we don’t conserve it and make it work to benefit all Liberians, especially the most vulnerable, we could be putting ourselves at risk.” TNR