Revisiting harmful practices in our maritime environment

(Dianabasi Effiong for NAN)

The 2022 World Ocean Day, themed: “Revitalisation and Collective Action for the Ocean”, was celebrated on June 8 in some of Nigeria’s littoral states to raise awareness on the plight of oceans and the marine ecosystems they support.

Prescribing solutions to acts that inhibit beneficial relationship between man, his environment and the oceans, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, sets the tone, highlighting the importance of the oceans to the ecosystem.

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He states: “It is time to realise that, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change, we urgently need collective action to revitalise the ocean, finding a new balance in our relationship with the marine environment.’’

The ocean, which transcends more than 70 per cent of the planet, remains humanity’s life source, sustenance and support base for every other organism globally

By producing no less than 50 per cent of the oxygen on planet, the ocean is home to most of the earth’s biodiversity; the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world.

It is importance to our economy with an estimated 40 million people expected to be employed by ocean-based industries by 2030.

The ocean needs support in many ways; we can nourish the ocean, which we so much rely on, for it to continue to give us our needs.

In Nigeria, for instance, and countries with the Atlantic Ocean as their maritime domain, threats abound.

The African Atlantic coast is continually threatened by insecurity, smuggling, terrorism, transnational organised crime, maritime piracy, acute environmental challenges and their consequences on food security and humanity

However, the Federal Government assures of its resolve to ensure a peaceful maritime environment within its capabilities in collaboration with other countries.

Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, restates President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s resolve, in consonance with 22 other African Atlantic Countries, to drive peace, stability, security and shared prosperity in the ocean’s coastal area.

Onyeama asserts the commitment while speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Rabat, Morocco, on the sideline of his presentation on the First Ministerial Conference of African Atlantic States in Rabat.

“We are going to set up the supporting framework for it. We are going to set up focal points, first of all in the ministry and then we will call an inter-ministerial meeting to then have a larger framework for cooperation.

“This will be done so that Nigeria’s involvement is institutionalised and made very clear and very concrete in terms of cooperating and charting a roadmap with the other countries,’’ he said.

The Kingdom of Morocco initiates the dialogue among the 23 countries along the Atlantic coast to tackle the threats and revive the resources of the area for shared prosperity.

The countries bordering the Atlantic include Nigeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Cape Verde, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Cameroon.

Others are Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

Similarly, Mr Akanbi Williams, Director, International Ocean Institute (IOI) in Nigeria, says Nigeria is promoting education, training and research to enhance the peaceful use of ocean space.

According to him, IOI- Nigeria has been promoting current issues in ocean governance including Blue Economy, Ocean Acidification, Climate Change, Food Security and Sustainable Trade, among others.

He says: “We are committed to creating awareness on issues such as marine pollution, oil pollution, over fishing and deep ocean mining.

“One of our major activities is the facilitation of Ocean literacy programmes through the education of the populace, especially students on the richness of the ocean and the need for its conservation.’’

He says the IOI-Nigeria operates at the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) with a number of staff and volunteer experts working towards these goals.

Also, an environmental rights focused organisation, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), calls for unified efforts by stakeholders to conserve and preserve water bodies and their biodiversity.

Its Director, Dr Nnimmo Bassey, at the 2022 World Ocean Day in Yenagoa, Bayelsa, says polluting the ocean is a direct threat to humanity, adding that intensified and collective actions be made to conserve and preserve the oceans.

He says it is obvious that industrial fishing, offshore exploration and exploitation, dumping of waste offshore and similar activities are the major drivers of pollutions and aquatic ecosystems destruction.

“We can only thrive when our oceans thrive. Polluting the ocean is a direct threat to humanity and polluters must not be allowed to divest without first accounting for their environmental sins,’’ Bassey says.

“It is necessary for citizens to have sober reflections on the state of oceans, seas, rivers and creeks as the world marked the 2022 ocean day.

“It is particularly important that individuals and local communities who have lived in harmony with these water bodies be recognised, supported, and learned from.

“Today, we mark the World Ocean Day from the banks of the river at Ogulagha community, Delta State, Nigeria.

“It is a day for dialogue with fishers and community people whose connection with the ocean, rivers, and creeks around them goes beyond livelihoods,’’ he states.

According to Bassey, the degraded condition of the community is a sad commentary on the despoliation of the Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea by oil exploration and exploitation.

He said: “Like many other extractive communities of the Niger Delta, Ogulagha community is incessantly impacted by oil spills and waste dumps that threaten not only the aquatic ecosystem but also the survival of the people.’’

Stakeholders and participants who marked the day in Port Harcourt also call for the protection of the ocean from all forms of threats, including oil pollution, plastics and every other form of wastes discharged daily into the ocean.

The Energy and Maritime Reporters (EMR) members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists in Port Harcourt, who organised the event to mark the day, expressed their regrets that the ocean was constantly threatened by the actions of man.

Dr Emi Membere-Otaji, the Chairman of Elschon Nigeria Limited, an oil servicing firm, restates at the occasion that about 90 per cent of global trade was through the oceans which also harbours all manner of plants and animals.

Membere-Otaji at the occassion, institues an award in Ocean Reporting, urging the media to drive efforts to protect the ocean.

He said: “There is energy and extractive industries going on in the oceans; largest quantities of oil are extracted in the waters and oceans.

“Nobody will tell your story for you, if you don’t. The Niger Delta is about the ocean and there is a lot to be said about this. We must tell our story

“I grew up in the Buguma waterfronts and related with the water very much. Life there is connected with water. My compound is the Otaji compound which is at the waterfront of Buguma.’’

He also highlights some loathly cultural practices in the maritime environment.

“`There are many bad cultural practices such as discharging waste into the water.

“In fact, we use refuse to fight erosion, to stop the steady encroachment of the water into the community.

“There is a balance in the ocean such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, etc. When imbalance occurs through pollution and other forces, it creates climate imbalance and climate change. Gas flare is one of such agents of oceanic imbalance.’’

Similarly, Ms Solari Inko-Tariah, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Focal Point for Ocean Literacy in Nigeria, urges everyone to be ocean literate to restore and conserve it for the present and future generations.

Inko-Tariah says there is need to revive what she calls “the declining state of the ocean health.

“We seem to be taking from the oceans than is required. Balance is needed. The ocean gives more than 50 per cent of the oxygen required by man. Let us be careful in exploiting and polluting the waters (Ocean).

“Understanding the influence of the ocean is key. Understand the link between the ocean and the society, the human community. Niger Delta people are yet to know the importance of the ocean,’’ she said.

Also, the South-South Zonal Coordinator, Nigerian Export Promotions Council, Mr Joe Itah, says the ocean remains very important in export promotions.

“The ocean is the main passage for export of goods and international trade. We operate a value chain system where one thing connects with the other. We appeal that all hands must be on deck to boost export trade.’’

The Chairman, Energy and Maritime Reporters’ Corps, Mr Martins Giadom, says the event is for maritime reporters and other journalists in Port Harcourt to interact with industry players to set an agenda for maritime sector reporting in the Niger Delta.

“EMR is our own attempt to create a specialisation in journalism practice in the Niger Delta.

“We sit in the hub of oil and gas industry and stand at the gateway to the ocean through the Gulf of Guinea, yet, we hardly lead in the narrative and coverage of the two critical sectors that carry Nigeria on their shoulders.”

Also, Chief Ernest Chinwo, the Chairman of the occasion and General Manager, Rivers State Newspaper Corporation, urges journalists to firmly establish their presence in reporting the maritime, oil, gas and environment sector.

“We must say no to playing second fiddle in this area of journalism. We have not taken advantage of the environment, oil, gas sector to align our practice to this critical sector that is very huge.

“We should create a viable organisation, open a website on this sector to feed the world. We can earn from it because the world would see us as experts here.

“Let this conference not end here. The world is waiting for our coverage of the two subsectors, oil, gas, maritime,’’ Chinwo says.

In summary, the ocean has the capacity to `…Take You Down’ (drowning), in tune with the lyrics of the global music great, Gregory Abott, in his 1986 platinum single debut album, `Shake You Down’.

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It also possesses the wherewithal to `…Give You All the Loving You Need’ (maritime resource). Let us, therefore, protect the oceans.

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