Deposit of human wastes washed up on one of the beaches in Lagos

Ugo Aliogo writes that huge waste deposits in Nigeria’s territorial waters constitute a big threat to the survival of marine life

“From a particular report, it was noted that when the belly of a dead shark was cut open, home-made wastes were discovered inside the belly. We are destroying our marine life gradually.”

A Lagos-based Scuba Diver, Bolaji Alonge, expressed this view with a great feeling of sadness in his heart. As a diver, he has been involved in diving voyages in the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, the Gulf of Omar and others. His experience about underwater voyage has left a sad taste in the mouth. His worry is that the huge deposit of waste in the ocean has constituted a big threat to the survival of marine life.

Marine waste is a worldwide challenge. While some countries especially tourists’ destination centres in the Northern Hemisphere are making frantic efforts to clean up the ocean. Most African countries are still lagging behind.

From his diving voyages, he revealed that there is a large stretch of land inside the Atlantic Ocean with a huge deposit of plastic wastes unattended to. If Nigeria is committed in playing a role in the global ocean cleanup campaign, Alonge urged the federal government to develop a mechanism that would curb the use of polythene bags and plastics. His argument is premised on the fact that these materials constitute nuisance to marine life and coastal communities.

In 2015, he participated in an ocean clean up exercise in the Red Sea in Egypt with a group of divers from around the world. They used sack bags to pick up the wastes inside the sea. During the exercise the group brought out the tyre of a heavy duty truck, pipes, cigarette boxes, plastics cups and others, from a site adjudged to be one of the most beautiful diving sites in the world.

The spirited efforts of these individuals are an indication that the desire to clean up the ocean should not be left to government. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and organised individual groups can play roles in the campaign. However, as a country there needs to be concerted drive through policy implementation to keep our coastal areas clean and safe.

According to him, “People need to stop indiscriminate dumping of wastes in the streets, gutters and their neighbourhood. As a people, we don’t have good waste disposal culture. This is very unpleasant and unhealthy.

“In order to play our part to save the ocean campaign, we need to organise a proper campaign to re-orientate the people’s minds especially on the use of plastics. Cleaning of the ocean has to be done by the federal and state governments in conjunction with body of divers.

“In Nigeria, we don’t have enough divers though we have a diving club in Lagos. But more diving clubs should be established and government should show renewed commitment to supporting scuba diving. Government should subsidise scuba diving for interested individuals because the training fee is expensive. To start a course in scuba diving it costs N300, 000.

“Plastics production companies must play a role in cleaning the ocean; government should play its role especially by holding these companies to task and Nigerians should improve their wastes disposal culture,” he stated.

The United Nations Environment Population (UNEP) recently observed that up to 80 per cent of all litters in our oceans are made up of plastics. Therefore by 2050, we will have more of them than fishes.

Unfortunately, this abnormality is caused by humans, leaving the ocean at the mercy of man’s discretion to save marine lives or not.

UNEP estimated that 15 per cent of marine litter floats on the sea’s surface, 15 per cent remains in the water column and 70 per cent rests on the seabed. A study revealed that 5.25 million plastic particles, weighing 268,940 tonnes in total, are currently floating in the world’s oceans.

With the increasing rise of marine pollution, the MacArthur Foundation in a study noted that the world is producing 20 times more plastics than 40 years ago. The negative effect is that yearly more than eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans, causing damage to marine wildlife, fisheries, tourism and marine ecosystem.

The study further sheds light on the fact that only less than 14 per cent of all plastics are recyclable and there is need to setup through technological mechanism to deal with the remaining 86 per cent which could create $80bn-$120 billion in revenues.

Over 80 per cent of marine pollution comes from land based activities, including plastic bags, water bottles, cups, cans and other debris which enter the ocean through deliberate dumping or run-off through rivers and drains.

Ocean pollution is caused by a number of factors such as ocean mining, sewage, large scale of oil spills, land runoffs, and toxic chemical from industries.

In the midst of all these challenges, Africa is not left out in the equation. It has had its fair share of problems to deal with. Many cities and coastal towns are battling with the huge deposit of garbage which ends up in the ocean. A renowned American Oceanographer, Sylvia Earle, who spent 60 years studying the sea, noted that 300,000 sea animals are killed or harmed yearly. The statistics is staggering especially because there are no concerted efforts to checkmate this indecent act by government of nations in the continent.

She further explained that some sea creatures get caught in the plastic debris, while others such as seabirds, turtles, fish, oysters and mussels ingest the plastics, which end up clogging up their digestive system and causing death.

At the 2017 ocean conference in Indonesia, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Peter Thomson, said the conference which was strategic and in support of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 is mandated under the 2030 SDG agenda to conserve and manage ocean resources.

Thomson urged leaders and representatives present at the conference to ensure that the SDG14 receives the support necessary to meet its critical targets, adding that there is need to know the state of the ocean, and the difficulties it is facing.

“We have to assemble the solutions required to overcome those problems. We are here on behalf of humanity to restore sustainability, balance and respect to our relationship with our primal mother, the source of all life, the ocean,” he noted.

His argument is that marine pollution is taking the world to critical point where by 2050 there will be more plastics in the ocean than there will be fish, therefore, there is an urgent need look at the effects of climate change on the ocean to properly understand what the world is confronted with.

He called for a stop to the ‘crazy subsidies’ given by industrialised countries to fishing fleets, urging a renewed effort to identify the species under threat and agree to only fish to quota or stop fishing those species altogether.

Thomson said: “We have to have better rubbish collection systems. We have to do what Rwanda has done which is to ban plastic bags. We have to stay true to the Paris Climate Agreement. But beyond that, we can set up marine protected areas where we can sustainably manage our fish stocks. We have to stop illegal and harmful fishing practices such as bottom dredging. We have to end those ridiculous fish subsidies and use that money to restore coastal ecosystem.

“Microplastics, which are bits of plastics inserted into things such as toothpaste and face creams and other cosmetics constitute a big problem. We have to stop industrial use of micro plastics because they get ingested into the biosphere. Their implications are far reaching.

“We have unleashed a plague of plastic upon the ocean that is defiling nature in many tragic ways. Illegal and destructive fishing practices, along with harmful fisheries subsidies, are driving our fish-stocks to tipping points of collapse. The greenhouse gases of accumulated carbon- combusting human activity are not only driving climate change, they are causing rising sea levels through ocean warming, while threatening life in the ocean through acidification and oxygenation,” he lamented..

The campaign to save the ocean doesn’t seem to be receiving encouraging support in Nigeria especially through awareness campaigns from government and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). However, some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are playing their roles in the campaign to save the ocean. The Mental and Environmental Development, a group passionate about cleaning the environment especially the coastal areas through active community participation is playing its part to support the campaign.

The NGO was founded by Miss. Doyinsola Ogunye, who is passionate about the cleanliness of the environment and the preservation of aquatic life. She also founded the Kids Beach Garden dedicated to teaching children about their environment and their role in giving back.

To put the issue of marine pollution in proper perspective, Ogunye argued that the major cause of ocean pollution is littering. She hinged her argument on the premise that Nigerians have a bad habit of littering the environment indiscriminately, with wastes which flow into drainage channels when it rains and end up in the ocean, where they are consumed by fishes.

Ogunye maintained that if indiscriminate dumping of refuse is not checked, the present generation is preparing a cocktail of disaster for children yet unborn, therefore there is a need for something imperative to be done.

She called on government, CSOs, and NGOs to start sensitising people on the need to stop littering the ocean because of the adverse effect on aquatic life and the society.

She noted: “The way we have conveyed many plastic in last 20 years, I don’t think it is going to stop, instead it is going to get worse. The best option is that government should actually levy these plastics production companies and put some kind of restrictions on those who use plastics, eventually place ban on its usage in Lagos State and Nigeria.

“We are evolving as a people and we might do a lot of things that will be a great disservice to the next generation. On the path of the federal government, they should start advocating for other kinds of packaging apart from plastics. In cleaning the ocean, I suggest that Nigeria adopts the examples of Kenya and Singapore. Kenya as a country has done remarkably well in managing environmental waste and marine pollution,” she remarked.

Highlights from the United Nations Ocean Conference 2017

In connection with the UN Ocean Conference, countries made commitments to reduce marine litter, as part of the UN Environment’s Clean Seas Campaign (CSC). Also at the conference, more than one million participants signed a petition to phase out single-use plastic worldwide within the next five years as part of the Avaaz campaign.

UN Environment launched the CSC in February 2017 to increase awareness on the need to reduce marine litter by targeting the production and consumption of non-recoverable and single-use plastic. More than 20 countries are now participating in the campaign, which calls on governments, industries and individuals to end single-use plastic and eliminate micro plastics in cosmetics by 2022.

Sweden announced it will join the CSC and will introduce a number of actions to tackle marine litter, including waste management technologies, a national collection system, a deposit-refund system for PET bottles, and raise awareness on the negative impact of plastic bags. Sweden is also expected to introduce a ban on microplastics in cosmetic products.

Furthermore, as part of the campaign, Indonesia has committed to reduce its marine litter by 70 per cent and Kenya will introduce a plastic bag ban in September 2017. Other countries that have previously announced commitments to the campaign include Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Grenada, Norway, Panama, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone and Uruguay.

Sweden will also provide SEK 9 million to support the CSC as well as SEK 5 million to support UN Environment’s efforts to tackle pollution from land-based sources. UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim said Sweden’s support “will help us intensify our work and translate the science into global awareness and concrete action.”

Sweden’s Minister for Environment, Karolina Skog, announced an additional SEK 2 million in funding for the Action Platform for Source-to-Sea Management (S2S Platform) to strengthen work on knowledge exchange and other efforts on land-based marine pollution. The S2S Platform is a multi-stakeholder initiative that promotes collaboration among experts to improve the management of water linkages from land through to the ocean.

During the conference’s general debate, many called for reducing single-use plastic. Countries committed to, inter alia: eliminate marine plastics from coastlines by 2025 (Ghana); collect marine debris throughout the Maldives’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ); ban single-use plastics (Monaco); ban microplastics (Sweden); prohibit the sale and manufacturing of microbeads in cosmetics and other products (Ireland); reduce the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags by 50 per cent (Italy); reduce plastic bag use by 25 per cent (Austria); ban the import and use of Styrofoam containers (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines); and fight marine plastic debris (Costa Rica). Indonesia outlined its commitment to reduce marine plastic debris by 70 per cent within eight years and said it had launched a US$1 billion waste management strategy.

Efforts to save the ocean: The Kenya example
In Kenyan production, sales and use of plastic bags attract imprisonment of four years or fines of $40,000. This has been adjudged by experts in marine conservation as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution. With this legislation in place, Kenya has joined more than 40 other countries that have banned or taxed single use of plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy. It took Kenya three attempts over 10 years to finally pass the ban, and not everyone is a fan.

However, the spokesman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), Samuel Matonda is not pleased with this development. His angst with the legislation is that it would cost 60,000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close, especially with the country’s status as a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.

He added: “The knock-on effects will be very severe. It will even affect the women who sell vegetables in the market – how will their customers carry their shopping home?”