‘Why Niger Delta mangrove forests must be protected’

The Niger Delta mangrove forests provides breeding ground for more than half of commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Guinea. However, the Niger Delta mangrove have suffered over 60 years of unmitigated degradation from oil exploration. To prevent a further disappearance of mangroves which serve as coastal protection from storm surges and tidal waves, there is urgent need for mangrove forests in the area to be protected.

This was the submission of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) Director, Nnimmo Bassey at the School of Ecology on Shifting the Powerlines that ended on Wednesday.

The Niger Delta houses the fourth largest mangrove forest in the world.

The livelihoods of coastal and indigenous peoples are inseparably coupled with mangroves which erode due to mangrove loss or degradation.

Research by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that the Niger Delta mangrove ecosystem is the breeding ground of more than 60 per cent of commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Guinea.

Some of the rivers that drain into the Gulf of Guinea are the Niger and the Volta. The coastline on the gulf includes the Bight of Benin and the Bight of Bonny.

Thus, degraded mangrove or losses in the Niger Delta affects fish production and the fisheries value-chain in the Gulf of Guinea.

Research also shows that after over six decades of unmitigated oil and industrial pollution, Niger Delta mangroves are amongst the most degraded mangrove ecosystems globally, with a recent review of crude oil impact on mangrove showing that 37 per cent of the global impact has occurred in the Niger Delta.

According to Bassey, “Mangrove forests serve as coastal protection from storm surges and tidal waves. They are very valuable for climate change mitigation both by providing resilience to sea level rise, coastal erosion, and as very efficient carbon sinks.

“Sadly, an estimated 340,000 to 980,000 hectares of mangrove forests are lost or degraded annually due to activities of humans and corporations. Such destructive actions include crude oil and plastic pollution, unregulated harvesting, urbanization, so-called land reclamation, dredging activities and the spread of the invasive nipa palm.

“In the course of investigating the place of mangroves in the power equations in some communities, activists from Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) and HOMEF recently reached the conclusion that mangroves must be protected and that a key way to do this is through the use of indigenous knowledge and the revival of customs of community conservation of mangrove forests. While a mangrove forest is being preserved on the coast of Kono in Ogoni, there is a heavy threat by the fast-spreading Nipa Palm.

“These invasive palms were introduced into the Niger Delta by a colonial officer in 1906 in the belief that the Nipa Palms were more aesthetically pleasing than mangroves and were useful for beautification and beach erosion control.”

He added that, “At Bundu, a densely populated neighbourhood in Port Harcourt, there is urgent need to clean the mangrove ecosystem of the massive oil spills and plastics and to prevent further despoliation of the creek. Fishers in Bundu community recall that they used to have customary norms for protecting mangrove forests in certain parts of the territory, with some being used as cemeteries for the young.

“Both Kono and Bundu communities have traditional laws that debarred the people from harvesting mangrove woods or fishing in mangrove forests on certain days or periods of time. Except in Kono, this conservation mode has largely become history. Replacing Nipa Palms with mangroves in Kono and cleaning oil coated mangroves from Bundu must be a collaborative effort with the government and the community including local and international organizations.

“Mangroves play vital roles in shaping livelihoods and cultures in coastal communities. Their degradation also negatively impacts the cultures and spirituality of the people. Migratory fishers carry tales bound to these ecosystems wherever they go.”

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