• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024



Aug 20, 2023

Recently, I came across a statement attributed to Barr Sharon Ikeazor, the Minister of State for Environment in Nigeria, published on September 17, 2020. The statement, titled “Nigeria Lacks Marine Protected Areas Despite 11,600 sqkm Coastline – Minister,” highlighted the absence of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along Nigeria’s extensive coastline and the need for conservation efforts.

It was noted that this absence prompted the initiation of a National Mangrove Restoration project to combat coastal erosion, restore polluted areas, and safeguard marine life.

While the Minister’s concern about the lack of MPAs is valid, there is an inaccuracy in her reference to Nigeria’s coastline spanning 11,600 sqkm. In fact, Nigeria’s coastline stretches approximately 852 km, with a maritime area of around 315,240 sqkm extending seaward from the baseline.

This represents about 34.1% of Nigeria’s total landmass of 923,768 sqkm. It is more accurate to state that Nigeria’s maritime area is about one-third the size of its landmass, or conversely, its landmass is approximately three times larger than its maritime area. Additionally, it’s important to differentiate between the measurement units for maritime and land spaces—nautical miles (nm) for maritime and kilometers (km) for land. The term “sqkm” pertains to area rather than linear measurements, as seen with coastlines.

The absence of MPAs in Nigeria’s maritime territory became evident during preparations for the First Global Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2018, organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This discovery was made while studying British Admiralty chart folios that covered Nigeria’s maritime area, aiming to identify and categorize potential MPAs in support of blue economy initiatives.

Expert consultations with the Federal Ministry of Environment (FME) and the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) confirmed the absence of MPAs or conservation zones similar to charted Spoil Areas or Foul Grounds within Nigeria’s jurisdictional maritime zones, which include Internal Waters (IW), Territorial Waters (TW), Contiguous Zone (CZ), and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The lack of MPAs within these zones is a factual point.

In the context of ocean conservation, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are akin to what Game Reserve Parks (GRPs) or Nature Conservation Areas (NCAs) are to the land. As per the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Charting Regulations, MPAs are designated and marked on large-scale charts to delineate protected marine ecosystems. These areas are critical for nurturing marine flora and fauna, supporting sustainable yields, and preventing species endangerment.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an MPA is “a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”

These ecosystem services encompass provisioning (e.g., food and water), regulating (e.g., climate control), supporting (e.g., nutrient cycling), and cultural (e.g., recreation, spirituality) benefits for humans.

The UN Database on Protected Areas estimates that over 17,000 MPAs cover more than 25 million sqkm of ocean—approximately 7.5% of the ocean’s expanse. Nevertheless, the Marine Conservation Institute suggests a more conservative estimate of 2.6% for true MPAs. MPAs fall under Area-Based Management Tools (ABMTs), vital for ocean sustainability.

These tools include Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEIs), Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs), Marine Migratory Species Networks (MMSNs), and more. Notably, only MPAs apply across jurisdictional maritime spaces from internal waters to the EEZ.

Establishing MPAs constitutes a fundamental aspect of a nation’s blue economy, alongside ocean sustainability strategies, Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), and robust Maritime Security (MS). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14), known as “Life Below Water,” sets targets to protect and conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommends a higher threshold of 30% by 2030. These goals underscore the significance of MPAs in ocean conservation.

Nigeria, as a signatory to SDG 14, is obligated to establish MPAs. However, some African nations, also SDG signatories, have already created MPAs. Seychelles, for instance, has over 40,000 sqkm of MPAs, covering 30% of its maritime territory, while South Africa and Kenya have established MPAs covering 5% and 14% of their maritime areas, respectively. In contrast, Nigeria has not established an MPA despite its sizable coastline and maritime expanse.

Lack of awareness about the economic potential of marine resources—a phenomenon called “maritime wealth blindness”—has hindered the establishment of MPAs in Nigeria. This is common in developing African countries. To overcome this, deep-sea research is essential to unveil the value of maritime resources through innovation. Nigeria’s Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) has struggled to provide comprehensive data on species composition and ecosystems due to limited resources.

Establishing MPAs in Nigeria’s maritime area requires collaboration among stakeholders like NIOMR, Federal Department of Fisheries (FDF), FME, Nigerian Navy (NN), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), and coastal communities. NIOMR must conduct sustained research to identify ecosystems for conservation, while FDF determines the economic components.

FME assesses environmental impacts, NN handles surveys and enforcement, and NIMASA monitors pollution. Coastal communities contribute support and local intelligence. A designated Marine Spatial Planning Authority (MSPA) would coordinate these efforts within a blue economy framework.

In conclusion, the absence of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Nigeria’s extensive maritime domain highlights the nation’s yet-to-be-realized blue economy potential. Establishing MPAs aligns with sustainable development goals and international conservation efforts.

To bridge this gap, a coordinated approach involving research, legislation, and stakeholder collaboration is essential. A robust blue economy strategy, including Marine Spatial Planning, is vital for safeguarding Nigeria’s marine wealth and ensuring its sustainable future.

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