Partenariat Régional pour la
de la zone côtière et Marine en Afrique de l'Ouest
Uncertainties about the future can give rise to totally opposed visions, whereby one may regard the glass as being half empty or half full. Relative to the future of our coastal area, for instance, it may happen that consideration is only given to risk factors:
- A development process heavily dependent on natural resources. The need for natural resources is so strong that these barely have the time to regenerate: soils are depleting, forests are disappearing and the sea is impoverishing.
- Over the last 50 years, the region’s population has increased three times and continues to grow at a rate considered as the highest worldwide.
- The impact of climate changes translates into floods, storms, migration of fish stocks to the North, algal blooms, etc.
Depending on whether the glass is looked at as being half empty, the conviction will be that the combination of these three factors will unavoidably lead to a disaster. Nonetheless, the challenges of the future may also be faced with the brave resolve by turning weaknesses into strengths, to take cue from martial arts.
- Our societies where young people aged less than 20 account for more than 50% of the population are dynamic, creative and have extraordinary adaptation capacities.
- There is still a great wealth of traditional knowledge on the environment, provided one is capable to identify and use such knowledge towards managing natural resources, as well as impart it to younger generations.
- Our natural environments are relatively in good health, with upwellings, mangroves, seagrass beds and mudflats still generously providing us with resources.
- We should learn from the mistakes of our Western predecessors to avoid pitfalls, while using smart modern technologies such as the VMS system for monitoring industrial fishing vessels and remote-sensing through such tools as kites, satellites and drones, the application of genetics to species conservation or even all new communication tools.
- Our almost unlimited solar energy potential should be tapped to help avert risks associated with the use of non-renewable sources.
- The recognition by rich countries that Africa bears very little responsibility in climate changes although, paradoxically, extremely vulnerable to this phenomenon; a blatant injustice that needs to be factored in development assistance and technology transfer.
The missing element, it must be confessed, is the sense of urgency, as history is unfolding at a mind-bogging pace; this is a collective energy that prompts us to respond as a group by pooling our individual strengths in the service of a shared vision, one that should give room and space to our reasons for hope.
Such is the spirit in which PRCM partners organised a side meeting at COP 22 in Marrakech, where participants jointly delved into factors of resilience of the West Africa coastal area to climate changes, in order to come up with concrete proposals that would be tabled to member states and donors.
Of the 8 species of marine turtles encountered in the world’s seas, 5 are regularly monitored in West African waters, including only 2 that reproduce in great numbers. The archipelago of Cabo Verde, especially Boa Vista Island, is a nesting place for 2,000 to 3,000 loggerhead turtles. Every year, 7,000 to 35,000 egg clutches are reported in Guinea-Bissau, in the Bijagos archipelago.
Significant efforts are being deployed by PRCM partners in this regard, but to what avail?
First, marine turtles are part of our culture and collective imagination. These are greatly fabulous animals that swim out of the water at night and painfully move on the beaches in search for a nesting place, before returning into the world of silence to travel thousands of kilometres through the oceans. In the cosmogony of communities living by the sea, marine turtles symbolise fertility and sexual potency (whereby dried penises are used as amulets) and have specific medicinal properties, with their fat used to treat rheumatism.
Marine turtles represent a common heritage in our sub-region. Indeed, satellite beacons have shown that, after laying their eggs, loggerhead turtles in Cabo Verde migrate off the coast from Mauritania to Guinea. Green turtles in the Bijagos move along the coast to Gambia, Senegal and Mauritania where they gain strength by feeding themselves on seabed grass in the Banc d’Arguin Park. As they move across our sub-region’s marine waters, it is our collective responsibility to preserve them.
Turtles contribute to the well-being of our marine environment. A number of turtle species feed on seaweed and thereby help to prevent this plant from becoming invasive, a situation that is increasingly likely to happen with oceanic warming, while others eat jellyfishes, whose population also tends to proliferate most probably as a result of a decrease in the numbers of small pelagics which, just like jellyfishes, also feed on plankton.
Holding a fascination in human beings, marine turtles provide a valuable component for the development of ecotourism. Visitors often travel long distances to come and enjoy the fabulous spectacle of these animals that have survived through the ages coming out of the sea to go and lay their eggs up the beaches.
Finally, conservation efforts targeting turtles are worth it as all species of marine turtles are vulnerable or in danger of extinction. As a matter of fact, in their juvenile stage, turtles suffer from predation by fishes, birds, crabs or varans, in addition to being exposed to fishing catches, marine pollution, including in particular plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfishes and which entail intestinal occlusions, beach erosion or sand removal for construction purposes and shore hardening to mention a few. Climate change effects must also be singled out. Indeed, the gender of offspring at birth is determined by the sand temperature, knowing that the hotter the temperatures the greater the chances for female offspring at birth. Inversely, sea-level rises imply a reduction in beach areas available for egg-laying. Taken together, all these factors represent a threat to turtle populations.
PRCM partners take action:
The vast majority of RAMPAO’s marine protected areas do take into consideration the protection of marine turtles.
Several national NGOs are also active in the area of turtle conservation, including Village des Tortues au Sénégal; Nature Mauritanie; Biosfera, Amigos do Calhau; Fundaçao Tartaruga or Nature 2000 in Cabo Verde; Guinée Econologie in Guinea,
Public agencies, such as DPN in Senegal, IBAP in Guinea Bissau, INDP in Cabo Verde, in charge of biodiversity in all PRCM member countries have committed in various ways to the conservation of marine turtles, depending on the specific vocation of their respective areas.
CP : PRCM/Hellio Van ingen
Consequences of illegal fishing
By scraping the bottoms near the coast with their fishing gear, trawlers are destroying the fish habitat and are making them gradually barren. The catches by artisanal fishermen are therefore catastrophically declining. The poverty of the fishermen but also of all stakeholders related to artisanal fisheries – such as female processors or traders who account for nearly two thirds of the jobs – is greatly aggravated by the illegal industrial fishing. Imagine the anger of these coastal communities who are helplessly watching trawlers plunder their fish before their eyes, a short distance from the coast!
The presence of trawlers in the traditional fishing areas causes collisions with canoes, regularly leading to the loss of fishermen. Damages to the fishing gear of small fishermen are also bemoaned.
The fall in artisanal catches, combined with the non-landing of illegal catches, is increasing the vulnerability of populations in terms of food safety, which is a dangerous situation, knowing the dependence of African populations on fish as main source of proteins.
Landing in a port of the country is a source of income and jobs: handling, storage, various taxes, etc. When industrial vessels tranship their catches at sea, this is therefore a significant shortfall and an increase in unemployment. It is estimated that the amount that a State can levy on an industrial ship is on average 10% of the value of their catches. Knowing that a parent ship can carry fish for a value of 7 to 8 million US dollars, the losses to illegal fishing is valued at nearly one billion USD per year for sub-Saharan Africa alone. The most affected area is West Africa with an average of 40% of illegal catches, and in some countries such as Guinea and Guinea Bissau, illegal catches exceed legal catches.
All of these combined effects are further impoverishing countries already among the poorest, and increasing the vulnerability of their people. Ultimately, this situation of injustice and poverty result into socio-political tensions and a sense of rebellion vis-à-vis countries that practice or tolerate illegal fishing. It is difficult for local fishermen to find alternative livelihoods and many of them consider illegal migration to Europe as the ultimate solution to their distress.
What to do to stem this tide?
Strengthening the monitoring capacity of West African coastal countries. In particular supporting the engagement of the states gathered in the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) to organize a concerted monitoring of their EEZ with substantial financial support. Such a system of sub-regional surveillance can help achieve economies of scale and to track ships that are taking refuge on the other side of a border. This has already been implemented with relative success by the SRFC (the Monitoring Operations Coordination Unit), but the end of its funding has stopped the initiative.
Ensure that a significant portion of fines are allocated to the funding of monitoring and incentives of crews.
Organizing and supporting the existence of bases spread along the coast with efficient equipment (speedboats, communication and surveillance equipment) and with high operating costs. This monitoring system can only work with dedicated teams that accept some level of risks, and protected against risks of corruption through consistent incentives.
Promoting participatory monitoring of traditional fishing areas in collaboration with the local fishermen. The latter can participate in monitoring operations by embarking aboard patrol boats or sending information to the competent authorities.
Improving the communications between the European Union (and other import countries) with West African countries to come up with a blacklist of illegal operators and deny them access to the European market.
Strengthening inspections at ports of landing in particular vis-à-vis vessels from areas where illegal fishing is most developed such as West Africa.
Supporting the efforts of the European Union to require Spain to ban the landing of illegal catches and to withdraw the logistic facilities granted to IUU fishing vessels. Efforts have been made in this direction with the European regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing (2010) and the involvement of INTERPOL in its implementation.
Working with representatives of artisanal fisheries, the Network of Parliamentarians active for environmental protection, and PRCM partners to develop lobbying operations at regional and national level.
While the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 75% of global fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, IUU fishing is a major obstacle to the development and conservation of the world’s fishery resources. Based on the current declining trends of stocks, specialists are now considering the possibility of a generalized depletion by 2035. Considering the crucial significance of these resources to the economies of West African countries, for employment and food security of their populations, the mobilization of all forces is urgent both within the countries involved and in consumer countries to fight this practice.
http://www.un.org/french/law/los/unclos/closindx.htm (Convention on the Law of the Sea)
http://ejfoundation.org/sites/default/files/public/Through%20the%20Net.pdf (brochure of EJF on IUU fishing in West Africa)
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/pirate-fishing/Blacklist1/ (IUU fishing blacklist)
http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/illegal_fishing/index_fr.htm (European Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing, which came into force in 2010)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GZeiGGxvTYc#at=12 (IUU and participatory monitoring in Guinea)
http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20130227-interpol-attaque-peche-illegale-lutte-international (Interpol tackles illegal fishing)
http://www.fao.org/news/story/fr/item/37665/icode/ (Treaty on measures under the State remit to combat IUU fishing/2009)
Agnew DJ, Pearce J, Pramod G, Peatman T, Watson R, et al. (2009) Estimating the Worldwide Extent of Illegal Fishing. PLoS ONE 4(2): e4570. doi:10.1371/
CAPE, 2010. Pêche illégale en Guinée: poisson volé, vies volées. 3p.
EJF (2007). Pirate Fish on Your Plate – Tracking illegally-caught fish from West Africa into the European market. Environmental Justice Foundation, London, UK.
EJF (2009) Dirty Fish – How EU Hygiene Standards facilitate illegal fishing in West Africa.
Environmental Justice Foundation: London
Sea Around Us, 2012. Projet ‘Recherche en Conservation des écosystèmes marins, collaboration et support en Afrique de l’Ouest", presentation brochure.
Mac Connell, T. 2008. An offshore free-for-all. Africa Report 12, 26-28.
CSRP – FAO, 2002. Robbers, reefers and ramasseurs. A review of selected aspects of fisheries MCS in seven West african countries. Prepared by K.Kelleher. 108 p.
Greenpeace, 2012. The plunder of a nation’s birthright: the fishing license scandal. 24 p
Crédit Photo : PRCM/Hellio Van ingen
Since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, 1982 ) – ratified by 165 countries – coastal or island states are owners of their maritime space on 200 nautical miles or 365 km off the coast: this space is called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Vessels wishing to fish in these waters must therefore meet a number of conditions defined by the country involved, including buying a license and complying with regulations specifying the places and times of fishing, species caught, fishing gear allowed, and how transhipment or landing should be done. In addition, the awarding of licenses to foreign vessels must only be on the surplus of resources that national fisheries are not able to exploit.
Although, in principle, national observers are on board to verify the compliance of operations, illegal fishing remains a common practice. Particularly in West Africa where resources are plundered every year to the tune of 313 to 631 million dollars, representing a significant shortfall in earnings for states that only have limited resources. In the jargon this kind of plundering is called IUU: Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. Let’s see what is really behind these three letters.
IUU fishing involves:
- Vessels fishing without a license or with forged documents. Vessels can forge their identity by changing the name or flag. Sometimes names are visible on the hull or concealed or covered by another name to avoid recognition. The NGO Environmental Justice Foundation, investigated illegal fishing in Sierra Leone and Guinea, and mentioned the case of a Chinese trawler named Lian run 12 which still had its old name Longway 008 on its hull when it was caught fishing without a license; on the same day another trawler named Long way 008 was seen in another part of the Guinean EEZ. Other examples: the trawler Seta -70 and the freezer parent ship Seta -73, both of South Korea, have previously sailed under the flags of Belize, Angola, and Japan; the Kumyeong-2, formerly called Bellesol-2 was recently seen anchored in the port of Conakry under the name Consu. They rather left Freetown, Sierra Leone, when authorities there wanted to investigate about them. These fluctuating registrations are also used to forge the identity of the owners of pirate ships to evade prosecution by a state and heavy fines.
- Non compliance with the terms of the license relating to types of fishing gear (non- regulatory mesh), authorized quotas or fishing areas. Thus, some trawlers are fishing near the coast and in the areas reserved for artisanal fisherfolk. In addition, the “collectors” are operating the towboat fishing, i.e. they carry or tow fifty canoes and their crews who fish for them. They can collect nearly 4 tons of fish per day in this way without having to enter the area reserved for artisanal fishing and therefore, without paying any license. Some boatmen of Senegal have therefore fished along the coasts of Gabon and Angola in this way, living aboard the “collectors” in inhumane conditions.
- Transhipment at sea of catches from fishing vessel to a freezer parent ship is allowed only in a port of the country or, in case of lack of infrastructure, should be subject to strict control. Transhipment at sea allows to escape the financial compensation due to the country and port taxes. It also allows for packaging the fish in boxes bearing the name of boats in legal status, thus falsifying the origin of the capture or the identity of the vessel that did the fishing.
- Falsification of records, prevention of controls through the absence of observer onboard, lack of ladders to enable inspectors or maritime police access onboard.
The practice of illegal fishing is facilitated by the existence of ports of convenience, particularly the port of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Spain, which has a free zone status. Companies receive a variety of tax and customs benefits there that facilitate the landing, transportation and sale of fish caught by pirate ships. Las Palmas is thus an entry point to European and Asian markets for the illegal fish; once unloaded in the Canary Islands the fish enters legally in Europe and may be carried elsewhere without further control.
Credit Photo PRCM/Hellio Van ingen
Since communities of the West Africa coastal area are not able to deal directly with the root causes of climate change, for which they are only slightly responsible, they have no choice but to develop adaptation capacities in the face of the expected impact. Key avenues for adaptation and mitigation can be explored from the existing literature and PRCM partners’ experiences.
• Risk perception is critical to understand what one needs to adapt to and how. This highlights the significance of education that should provide the individual necessary interpretative elements and, particularly, convince them that they have the possibility to influence their living environment and conditions, develop new approaches and demonstrate creativity abilities. An educated youth will be able to exert flexibility, as a necessary condition for adaptation in a changing world.
• Over the years, local communities have accumulated adaptation knowledge and traditions that are too valuable to be ignored in a planning exercise. A balanced gender participation is also decisive. These adaptation capacities depend on social organisation aptitudes (associations and networks) and external factors such as access to electricity, internet, information and technologies. Strengthening social capital within communities is also key to urging people to achieve mobility and creativity, i.e. diversify fishing modes, develop environmentally friendly aquaculture and become full-fledged stakeholders of ecotourism. The very institutions need to develop their adaptation capacities by enhancing their skills, transparency and flexibility.
• In order to better identify adaptation requirements in respect to changes underway, development initiatives should emanate from the local level to the extent possible. Indeed, the issue is how to contain trends that are impelled by external drives as is the case today for fisheries, tourism, extractive industries, energy, communication technologies and trade. Promoting indigenous development in the areas of (family and subsistence) agriculture, (artisanal) fishing and (eco)tourism will yield benefits at the local level if rooted in local communities’ own knowledge, which will enable these communities to better manage adaptation opportunities and needs.
• Central to the mitigation of climate change effects are ecosystem conservation and rehabilitation. Preserving the good health of critical habitats such as wetlands, mangroves or coral formations not only helps to protect the coastline but also provides a package of essential services, including carbon sequestration, nutrient recycling, depuration, fisheries, biodiversity and recreational activities.
• All these measures require revisiting development models (here and there) and call for financial resources. International cooperation is more needed than ever. It is even a must due to the fact that countries from the North bear the greatest responsibility for climate change. Climate justice is also a pressing need across the globe if consideration is given to such possible consequences as migrant flows (to the coastline or countries in the North) or the rise of fundamentalisms. PRCM partners are active on the ground through the following:
• Rehabilitation of the lower delta of the Senegal River via the Diawling National Park and the Transboundary Biosphere Reserve of the lower Delta of the Senegal River;
• Participatory approach to the protection of the landscape heritage of the Cabo Verde archipelago (the 7 wonders of Cabo Verde);
• “Climate: head in the air and feet on the ground” a climate change awareness-raising project based on a participatory aerial and ground photography process, implemented by en Haut! jointly with the youth of the Maio island, Nouakchott and Palmarin;
• Rehabilitation of nursery areas in the Joal-Fadiouth MPA through the protection of aquatic-grass bed and the creation of artificial reefs;
• Recovery of rice fields and rehabilitation of mangroves in the Rio Cacheu Mangrove Natural Park in the face of rising sea levels;
• Regional Environmental Education Programme (PREE) to turn West Africa youth into “coastal citizens”.
Fishery sector: The rise in sea temperatures will cause fish species to move to colder waters, which in turn will lead to a loss of revenue for tropical countries. The increased frequency of storms will have consequences for fishing trips, security, and may entail risks for the destruction of fishing boats and flooding of fishermen’s villages, as has already been reported in our sub-region, but in an even more exceptional manner. Shellfish resources, as a vital element for fishing communities, will be impacted by higher sea surface temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification. Following a review of the situation in 132 countries, a number of researchers have come to the conclusion that 2/3 of the countries most vulnerable to these risks are located in Africa. Based on some forecasts, the fishery sector could lose 50% of its jobs and US $ 311 million per year.
Tourism: Predominant on the coastline, tourism will be directly affected by the evolution of climate conditions (temperatures, rainfalls, strength of the wind), aquatic parameters (surface temperatures, invasive species, including algae and jellyfishes) or coastal risks (erosion and floods). Available beach areas will be reduced as a result of erosion and sea-level rise, thereby causing significant damages to the fishing industry and fishery-dependent local economies. Additional resources will need to be set aside for the protection of the coastline and related infrastructures. These changes will generally affect the attractiveness of destinations and tourists’ preferences and require adaptation strategies from tour operators.
Farming: Over many generations, African farmers have developed a 98% rain-fed form of agriculture. Now that droughts and floods are likely to increase with climate changes, producing food in the expected quantity and quality will become problematic. Given this situation and taking into account population growth forecasts, the production will have to be increased by nearly 60% by 2050. Moreover, the recent rise in foodstuff prices can only worsen food insecurity and malnutrition risks, especially among poor urban dwellers.
Health: Climate changes will affect human health both directly and indirectly, including through heat stress, the incidence of illnesses such as malaria or meningitis, the geographic or seasonal expansion of a number of bacterium, consequences from hunger and malnutrition as well as illnesses caused by unclean water. The development of toxic algae will impact the health of ecosystems, with consequences on coastal productivity, nursery areas, biodiversity and human health through the consumption of contaminated seafood.
Coastal infrastructures and urban planning: All the capital cities and several big cities of the 7 member countries of PRCM are located on the coastline. Cities like Nouakchott, Saint Louis or Banjul are already experiencing the adverse effects of coastal erosion and sea-level rise, such as floods, water table pollution and habitat and infrastructure deterioration. These are particularly felt by most vulnerable populations. According to a study on the city of Nouakchott, the economic cost associated with the potential impact or risks of flooding is estimated at US $ 7 billion. The IPCC report mentions the case of an event that occurred in Durban, South Africa where as a result of the combination of a high sea level and a cyclone, a swell of over 14 metres surged up and created havoc estimated at US $ 100 million.
It should be noted that such risks add to difficulties with which these sectors are already confronted, including overfishing and marine pollution, political unrest or epidemic risks, all of them impacting the tourist sector. It follows that people most affected by climate change are those that already considered as most vulnerable in terms of development requirements. This is how Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone rank 2nd and 3rd respectively in the global ranking of countries most vulnerable to climate change. A challenge that should mobilise all PRCM partners!
Allison, EH et al. (2009). Vulnerability of national economies to the impacts of climate change on fisheries. Fish and Fisheries, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Cheung, WWL et al. 2013. Signature of ocean warming in global fisheries catch. Nature 497
Gates, S (2013). These Countries Face The Biggest Threats From Climate Change. Huffington Post
Lam, VWY et al. (2012). Climate Change Impacts on Fisheries in West Africa: Implications for Economic, Food and Nutritional Security. African Journal of Marine Science
Senhoury A (2014) Aménagements portuaires et urbanisation accelerée des côtes basses sableuses d’Afrique de l’Ouest dans un contexte de pejoration climatique, cas du littoral de Nouakchott (Mauritanie). Thèse d’Etat de l’Université de Dakar. April 29, 2014, 157 pp
Weatherdon, L. et al. (2015). The Oceans 2015 Initiative, Part II: An updated understanding of the observed and projected impacts of ocean warming and acidification on marine and coastal socioeconomic activities/sectors, Studies N°03/15, IDDRI.
This Focus on climate change addresses three sections, as follows:
- Weather forecasts: consequences for the coastline environment and for marine and coastal biodiversity;
- Socio-economic consequences: fishery, agriculture, tourism, coastal infrastructures, urban development and health;
- Adaptation and mitigation measures.
What do weather experts foresee for West Africa in the future?
The magnitude of climate change will depend on whether measures are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, particularly in countries of the North. Based on the models developed by IPCC experts, the following changes are expected in the West Africa sub-region: temperature rise from 3°C to 6°C by the end of the century or even earlier as shown by a few scenarios; reduced (from 20 to 35%) and irregular rainfall, and possibly a delay in the beginning of the rainy season; a higher frequency of extreme weather events (heat waves, rainstorms, violent winds); sea-level rise between 40 to 80 cm, which is likely to be higher locally depending on the significance of the tide, the strength of the wind or ocean swells triggered by storms off the coast. While these forecasts are relatively detailed for countries located north of the Gambia, such information is less specific for places further South when it comes to temperature and rainfall. The Sahel and West Africa are generally regarded as areas particularly sensitive to climate change.
Consequences for the coastline environment
It is still difficult to anticipate all the consequences of climate change as account should also be taken of the current effects of human activities. The most important aspects of these consequences, however, include sanilisation, which will affect agriculture and the quality of potable water along the coastline; reduced flow and drying up of rivers, leading to a shortage of freshwaters and potential conflicting interests; flooding in the coastal environment: on the assumption that the sea level rises above 1 metre, Saloum, the estuary of the Gambia, the cities of Nouakchott, Saint Louis and Banjul and seashore tourist facilities will be largely submerged. Floods will work havoc if associated with storm-triggered swells. Equally anticipated are an accelerated coastal erosion, whose effects are already perceptible, and ocean acidification. There are still uncertainties about the evolution of the Canary upwelling current. Most observation findings suggest that global warming has started since the 80s, entailing a change in the composition of species (which is positive in the case of round sardinella in the waters of Mauritania). The development of a synergy between water temperature and ocean acidification may have an effect on a number of biological processes.
Consequences for marine and coastal biodiversity
Ocean warming, a reality already measurable at 2,000 metres deep, causes tropical species to migrate to more temperate latitudes (i.e. northward from our sub-region) or to deeper and colder waters. A number of species may find it difficult to migrate in case of poor connectivity among their natural habitats. Inversely, larger species that are capable of travelling longer distances and that reproduce themselves in the deep sea will encounter less difficulty. If the size of the population of the species that cannot easily migrate to the north becomes very small as a result of overfishing, it will be more problematic for them to genetically adapt to the new environmental conditions and extinction may ensue. Feeding will become more challenging for fish-eating seabirds, such as Northern gannets and terns, if the water temperature compels fishes to remain in the depths. Climate warming will lead to an imbalance in the population of sea turtles whose gender at birth is determined by the temperature of the sand on laying beaches, indeed the higher the temperature the greater the chances to have female turtles. Difficult to control invasive species will grow, including jellyfishes and seaweed. It will be recalled that following the proliferation of seaweed in Sierra Leone in 2011, artisanal catches dropped by 40%.
The sea-level rise will affect coastal environments. In the face of this development, failure for the mangrove to move gradually upstream owing to a lack of space or the construction of coastal infrastructures will be synonymous with its extinction. This in turn will negatively impact the reproduction of fisheries (fishes, shrimps and oysters), wildlife (birds and manatees), carbon storage capacities and the coastline. However, it seems that a sea-level rise may benefit seagrass beds through the expansion of surfaces available on mudflats. Most of sandy small islands used by seabirds as a reproductive site will be submerged, as well as beaches where turtles lay eggs.
Ocean acidification will have negative repercussions on organisms with calcareous structures such as corals or shells, especially as these species cannot or can hardly move in search for better ecological conditions.
Whether waders or sea birds, they are all in essence migratory birds that share their lives between Africa and Europe. Our coastline, stretching from Mauritania to Sierra Leone through Cape Verde, is home to a large section of these passport-free travellers.
From September to April, our shores are populated with small waders that feed on worms, crabs, small fishes and shells in times of low tide. Around the month of March, these birds get ready to migrate to Europe and Siberia for nesting. In preparation for this travel of 6,000 to 8,000 kms, they spend a significant amount of time eating night and day in order to gain nearly half of their body weight in fat, which will provide their main fuel. While some species travel to Europe non-stop, others need to restore their energy levels several times during the crossing. The record distance travelled at one go belongs to a bar-tailed godwit that flew 11,680 km for 8 days at a stretch. Waders have barely two months to reproduce when they get to the northern lands. From August onwards, nights become longer, the cold weather sets in and food preys become scarce. This is when they travel back southward to reach our sub-region in October, generally in a state of exhaustion.
PRCM member countries are also very much visited by seabirds in the course of their migration or reproductive phase. A number of species, such as the arctic tern, would just cross the sub-region during a return trip of 80,000 km between the Arctic and Antarctic on a yearly basis during their 20 years of existence. Others settle in colonies on islands along the coastline to nest away from predators. This is the case of sterns, greater flamingos, pelicans, herons and tufts, cormorants, most of them feeding on fishes. These birds also migrate after their young have left the nest, including puffins from Cape Verde that spread out off the coasts of Senegal but also of South America.
How useful are these birds?
All of these species play a leading role in the ecological functioning of the coastal and marine zone and provide useful indicators on the health of our environment. In strict economic terms, their value mainly depends on nature tourism. This activity is becoming widespread in Northern countries, and attracts an increasing number of visitors in Senegal and the Gambia. According to a study conducted in the United States in 2011, the economic value of bird tourism is estimated at 41 US $ billion per year.
A shared responsibility
All these migratory waterbirds belong to all the countries that make up their distribution area and which, consequently, must share the responsibility for their conservation. We must therefore feel encouraged to work in collaboration under existing partnerships, such as PRCM. International conventions, including the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands or the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), are also fora where European countries could be urged to support efforts made by African countries to protect migratory birds that represent a common heritage, a living link between the North and the South.
What do PRCM’s partners do?
Alcyon Project: Protecting offshore areas key to seabirds
Flamingo Project: Preserving flamingo species and habitats in Marine Protected Areas across the sub-region
Protecting shearwaters in Cape Verde: NGOs-fishermen collaboration to end human consumption of flamingo chicks
International waterbird census:
Study and protection of waterbirds and parrots in the Bijagos Archipelago
Migratory bird conservation project: scientific review of migratory birds and their main sites and habitats in West Africa
Most of key sites for migratory waterbirds are protected within the Regional Marine Protected Areas Network of West Africa
A flying bar-tailed godwit (photograph by Hellio & Van Ingem): this species holds the record of the longest distance travelled non-stop
2. Small waders in flight (photograph by Hellio & Van Ingem)
3. Colonies of royal terns in the Banc d’Arguin National Park (photograph by Campredon)
Why is it in our interests to protect sharks when we know that they eat the fishes of fishermen and represent a threat for swimmers? Is it highly concerning that about 100 million of sharks are fished every year for their fins and that one third of the 465 species are critically endangered, including the saw-fish that has almost disappeared from West African waters? True, there are economic, cultural or moral reasons to sound the alarm but let’s focus here on ecological reasons: why does nature need sharks and other major predators for its own balance?
In the chain of life and in terms of who eats what, sharks rank at the top and are consequently referred to as super-predators. Sharks eat predatory fishes (horse mackerels, barracudas, and tuna) who in turn catch forage fishes that feed on aquatic plants (mullets and tilapias) and plankton (sardinella and fringe-scale sardinellas). A whole food chain! In the absence of sharks, predators will increase in numbers and deplete forage fish stocks. Therefore, sharks play a role in controlling predatory populations to protect fishes that are at the bottom of the food pyramid, thereby preventing sardinellas, mullets and other tilapias from extinction.
Let’s take a concrete example: sharks get their food by attacking schools of horse mackerels, themselves feeding on mullet schools. In this way, a reduction in the population of sharks will translate into an increase of horse mackerels, which in turn may entail the shrinking of mullets which, owing to their numbers, are crucially important for human food. Another example from the Bijagos Archipelago: the sharp decline of sharks has led to an explosion in the population of stingrays, one of their favourite prays. Yet, stingrays are venomous and cause serious injuries to women collecting shells, pedestrian fishermen or tourists swimming in the beach.
When hunting, sharks catch more easily less rapid or nimble individuals. In this manner, they eliminate old, sick or inexperienced individuals and contribute to keeping the populations of their preys in good health. Many fish species such as sardinellas, horse mackerels or mullets, live in schools that comprise hundreds, indeed thousands of individuals; this behaviour is intended to provide better protection from predators. Thanks to predators, therefore, there are fish schools from which fishermen can catch sizeable amounts of fishes at a time. Moreover, when hunted by predators, fish schools come close to the sea surface and then become visible to predatory sea birds that come to hover over such schools, which provides a useful indication to fishermen about the presence of fishes.
The presence of predators compel possible preys to develop any type of defence strategies, including camouflage, venom, spine and various similar behaviours, that have resulted in the diversification of species and biological diversity.
That which is true of sharks is also true of all predators, even those at the bottom of the food pyramid. Let’s consider the case of small pelagic species such as sardinellas (yaboye) or fringe-scale sardinellas (bonga). These pelagic species feed on plankton, just like jellyfishes do. Following their reduced numbers, more food resources became available to jellyfishes which then bred to the point of becoming invading. The density of jellyfishes is often so high that they end up blocking the pipes of desalination plants, which can prevent them from functioning properly. The alternative is either to fill fishing nets with fishes or make swimming impossible on the beaches, which will be detrimental to sea resorts.
PRCM’s partners have been endeavouring for years, especially under the SRFC, to safeguard sharks and sawfishes. In this regard, a regional plan of action and country plans of action have been developed jointly with Ministries of Fisheries and are supplemented with research, training and alternative development activities. On its side, the regional network of Marine Protected Areas (RAMPAO) plays a role in the conservation of sharks by protecting a few sanctuaries where sharks and other predators like monk seals and dolphins, can breed safely. Efforts are being made to ensure sound promotion of these initiatives with the youth through environmental education actions, particularly in the framework of the Regional Environmental Education Programme implemented by PRCM’s partners.
As oil resources shrink, the price of a barrel goes up. Oil deposits that formally seemed insignificant or complex in terms of exploitation are now highly sought after by oil companies. The map of offshore blocs attributed to these companies off the coast of West Africa indicates that all countries potentially have oil deposits in their waters. That countries consider the economic significance of this resource is quite legitimate. Accidents, however, and accidents no matter their magnitude do occur in all offshore drillings, must call for caution. Even more so, because a healthy marine environment is what countries in the sub-region need more than anything else to protect their interests in terms of fisheries, tourism and food security.
Risks associated with the offshore oil industry are ever present from prospecting to abandonment of the wells. The air guns used during the seismic surveys for assessing deposit potentials kill larval fishes and disturb whales. Oil drilling requires many chemical products that pollute the environment and can cause accidental oil spills. Similarly, loading operations on production platforms are as risky as oil transport, especially when it comes to single-hulled oil tankers.
As the saying goes among petroleum engineers, “where there are shrimps, there is oil!”. Yet, where there are shrimps, there are also often seagrass bed, mangroves and mudflats which are highly vulnerable to oil pollution. The socio-economic value of fishing and the ecological sensitivity of coastlines both entail a particularly demanding environment for any oil or gas companies as well as for their local and world partners.
It should be reminded that these stakes must be into perspectives at the regional level, given that marine currents carry pollution beyond borders. Environmental assessments have shown that an accident off the coast of Mauritania could have indirect effects as far as Dakar, Senegal. A survey of deposits located at the border between Senegal and Guinea Bissau found that pollution tables might spread from the Gambia to the Bijagos Archipelago, with marine currents facilitating this spread far into estuaries.
In addition to these risks, oil development often generates conflicts: between governments and companies about oil contracts and revenue; between governments and citizens about the redistribution of oil revenue; and with local communities about land rights and compensation connected with pollution. As a rule, companies operating in Africa take advantage of the vulnerability of states to negotiate unfair contracts that do not always comply with good practices, especially when operations take place off the coast, far from sight.
How can countries in the region avoid these risks? Of the many urgent actions to be undertaken, the following could stand as priorities: developing national technical capacities that will serve as an interface between oil companies, government agencies and civil society while maintaining control over a specific activity sector (environment, economy, geology, sociology, legislation, etc.); carefully selecting operators based on criteria such as compliance with international standards on good practices and best technologies, experience and possession or not of insurance certificates for offshore specific risks; delineating areas of operation according to the sensitivity of the environment and its economic functions (operations are banned within protected areas whether existing or under creation); boosting the functioning of a national dialogue platform on oil and gas activities. In this regard, the decision-making process should involve the Parliament, the Court of Auditors, local elected representatives as well civil society organisations; and ratifying relevant international conventions, including the International Maritime Organisation and the Abidjan Convention.
PRCM partners contribute significantly to promoting good practices of the fishing sector in several ways, including through:
- the production of technical and extension information (see list below) in several languages;
- a workshop training organised by WWF;
- guidance to governments, specialized agencies and civil society;
- the deliberations of a working group on extractive industries and oil (government and civil society in Guinea Bissau);
- technical guidance to the AGC Agency with WWF and Oxfam for a strategic environmental assessment on offshore drilling at the border between Senegal and Guinea Bissau;
- a study tour to Nigeria for Parliamentarians, journalists and NGOs;
- an independent expert panel in Mauritania with the support of IUCN Mauritania;
- contribution to the preparation of an additional protocol on the theme at the Abidjan Convention with the support of IDDRI;
- the development of sensitivity maps of Mauritania and Guinea Bissau;
- the setting up of a GAED international Master on the management of extractive industries with the technical support of the Universities of Nouakchott and Saint Louis.