Plastic bottles, bags and other rubbish are a regular sight on Nigerian beaches. They do not just ‘disfigure’ the beautiful beach lines, studies have shown that they, among other harmful things, threaten marine life and wreck the ecosystem. This was the same when our correspondent, in company with the Pop Beach Club team, visited the Ilashe and Ibeshe beaches, Snake Island, off the Lagos coast along the Badagry Creek.
At the shoreline of Ilashe beach, for instance, polythene bags, PET bottles used to package drinks as well as other waste objects, such as abandoned bags, canoes, among others, lined the seashore eastwards. This gave the beach a clumsy and uninviting look enough to discourage fun seekers and tourists seeking to relax.
A resident of the community, who identified herself as Iya Tope, said fishing and other activities, which are the mainstay of the community, have declined drastically for reasons she could not explain.
Speaking in pidgin as she wiped her face with the back of her palm, Iya Tope said, “I don’t know what happened. Fishes are no longer as plenty as they used to be. Sometimes, when we cast our net, instead of fish, we get abandoned slippers, plastic bottles and other debris from waste washed into the ocean.
“This (fishing) is the only thing I do and this is how I take care of my family. If nothing is done about this problem, it will affect not just me, but a lot of other people who depend also on fishing to survive.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, in a recent report posted on its website, stated that over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications. Statistics from the IUCN also showed that at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and plastic makes up 80 per cent of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments.
“The most visible impacts of plastic debris are the ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species.
“Marine wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fish and turtles mistake plastic waste for prey; most then die of starvation as their stomachs become filled with plastic.
“They also suffer from lacerations, infections, reduced ability to swim, and internal injuries. Floating plastics also help transport invasive marine species, thereby threatening marine biodiversity and the food web.
“These marine species which ingest these debris or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and death.
“Plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.
“There is an urgent need to explore new and existing legally binding agreements to address marine plastic pollution,” part of the report read.
Speaking on the matter, the Founder of the Rite on the Beach Initiative, Akintunde Disu, told Sunday PUNCH that the indiscriminate use of plastics and their improper disposal can harm the environment and biodiversity.
The environmentalist noted that, at least, 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.
Disu said, “Plastics, according to reports, make 80 per cent of all debris in the ocean found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. Plastic is found on the shorelines of every continent, with more plastic waste found near popular tourist destinations and densely populated areas.
“The main sources of plastic debris found in the ocean are land-based, coming from urban and storm water runoff, sewer overflows, littering, inadequate waste disposal and management, industrial activities, tyre abrasion, construction and illegal dumping. Ocean-based plastic pollution originates primarily from the fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture.
“Under the influence of solar UV radiation, wind, currents and other natural factors, plastic breaks down into small particles called micro plastics (particles smaller than 5mm) or nano plastics (particles smaller than 100nm).
“The small size makes it easy for marine life to ingest accidentally, endangering, not just their lives but ours. This is why I started Rite on the Beach, to tackle this menace decisively.
“As an inter-sectional environmentalist, 10 years ago, I decided to face the problem of plastic pollution on the beach and education for rural children because I live on the beach. I noticed that this was a persistent problem and I decided to be useful to society. I made a conscious decision to take out 10 years to study the problem ,so when I act, I will act with knowledge, data and science so as to create a lasting impact.
“When we started, we built a classroom for the community but we needed to do more.”
Many countries lack the infrastructure to prevent plastic pollution. Experts have identified sanitary landfills, incineration facilities, recycling capacity and circular economy infrastructure as well as proper management and disposal of waste as some of the ways to mitigate this issue. But how well has Nigeria fared so far in the efforts to build an eco-friendly space where humans as well as other terrestrial beings can thrive?
Disu, speaking further, noted that the regulation around the use of plastic in Nigeria was weak, adding that the government should start from the ‘big’ companies who produce these plastics to work on strengthening regulation and building a circular economy.
“The environment has been misused by a lot of us here in Nigeria. It almost seems like we don’t know the value. When you try to change someone, it, sometimes, resorts to violence. But when they are convinced to change themselves, they see it as an act of liberation.
“During the lockdown, I was here for 54 days and during that period, I was able to interact with the villagers; because, until then, I had not really fully understood the problem. When I spoke to the families and children, I found out that the basic amenities were not basic at all.
“We developed walking tours along the beach to be able to meet the community. One of the things that came up was the decline in fishing activities. This community, Ilashe, is one of the highest producers of the fish we eat in the city but there has been a decline in recent years. This may not be unconnected to this menace,” he said.
He also lamented the cutting down of the mangroves in Lagos, which he described as a multi-billion dollar sector.
“When we cut down the mangroves at the mouth of the estuaries, there is no breeding ground for fishes. Mangroves serve as a nursery for fish. There is also the issue of plastic pollution in the waterways so the fish were going elsewhere and this was affecting them. So, we have to find a way to substitute this income for them and to educate them to realise what the problems were and ways to socialise the solving of this problem.
“I came up with a plastic-neutral token where members of our community at Pop Beach Club can come together and buy these tokens.
“The average human being uses 84 kilogrammes of plastic in a year. The international price for ocean plastic is eight cents. So, if you pay us $42, we will remove 84kg of plastics from the ocean on your behalf. So, with that knowledge, we are going to be able to make money which, in turn, goes to the community by providing jobs and scholarships and helping them because they help us to remove the plastics from the ocean.
“We then know that we are plastic-neutral and we are taking out what we put in one way or the other. It is about causing behavioural change because once you start, we can take appropriate actions to improve the state of the planet,” he added.
How plastics affect human lives
Micro plastics have been found in tap water, beer, salt and are present in all samples collected in the world’s oceans, including the Arctic.
Several chemicals used in the production of plastic materials are known to be carcinogenic and interfere with the body’s endocrine system, causing developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune disorders in both humans and wildlife.
Recently, micro plastics were found in human placentas and breast milk but more research is needed to determine if this is a widespread problem.
“Toxic contaminants also accumulate on the surface of plastic as a result of prolonged exposure to seawater. When marine organisms ingest plastic debris, these contaminants enter their digestive systems, and over time accumulate in the food web.
“The transfer of contaminants between marine species and humans through consumption of seafood has been identified as a health hazard, and research is ongoing,” Disu added.
Waste to wealth
The Rite on the Beach Initiative in their annual symposium,with the theme, “Flight or Flourish”, held on November 14, 2022 at the Ilashe Beach, outlined some ways the country can convert the abundant mangrove deposits and plastic waste into wealth by creating new markets through green and blue bonds.
Green bonds, according to investment expert with experience in Nigeria, London and Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Farooq Oreagba, who spoke at the symposium, are fixed-income, liquid financial instruments that are used to raise funds dedicated to climate mitigation, adaptation and other environment-friendly projects. It is worth noting that Nigeria issued its first green bond in 2017.
A blue bond is a debt instrument issued by governments, development banks, or others to raise capital from investors to finance marine and ocean-based projects that have positive environmental, economic, and climate benefits.
Speaking further, Oreagba said, “We are talking about beaches littered with recyclable plastics, rusting shipwrecks that threaten our shorelines as well as the marine life, discarded fishing nets and the list goes on.
“The issuance of a blue bond is another weapon in our arsenal for raising the funds to meet our goals since blue bond investments often have prerequisites related to environmental sustainability,” he added.
Other speakers at the symposium included an Israeli eco-tourism entrepreneur and Director at Innov8, an organisation that mentors young entrepreneurs to create life-changing products, Neta Hanien; and Mr Jonathan Millard of the Montane Forest Project in Taraba state.
The speakers also included an employee at the Consensys Creators of MetaMask and leader in Web3 development, Samuel Akpan, who was joined by a professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Lagos, and an expert in the appropriation of public space for recreational purposes, Taibat Lawanson; a circular innovation entrepreneur partner, Dr Natalie Beinisch; and, the Team Leader, Programme Migration for Development, GIZ, Sandra Vermuijten-Alonge.
The speakers stressed the need for the country to set aside wetlands in the peninsula for conservation.
According to the environmentalists, this will create a carbon asset and a tourist asset for generations to come.