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The danger of ignoring biodiversity in Nigeria

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By Praise Eze

MY first major source of concern is ‘indiscriminate felling of trees’ in every geopolitical zone in Nigeria. Apart from their role in the food cycle (the good old photosynthesis), trees conserve our environment by preventing erosion and by fertilising the soil under them with their leaves. They equally serve as home for different animal and avian species that add beauty and essence to nature.

Currently, however, forests are almost non-existent and trees have completely disappeared from most urban centres like Benin City, Enugu and Lagos. This portends great danger not only to our economy but also to our health. In fact, lack of trees is probably why the weather in Benin City is way hotter than it is in my country village in Nsukka.

Another source of worry as far as our biodiversity is concerned is ‘air and water pollution’. The rate at which our natural environment is being polluted as a result of dumping of non-degradable polyethene by-products, as well as inhuman discharge of poisonous chemicals into our water bodies, is alarming.

While heaps of refuse have taken over hitherto arable lands, aquatic creatures have been dying in droves. Only recently, a dead whale was washed ashore in Yenagoa in Bayelsa State with no one able to categorically state its cause of death. With this, it is clear that if nothing is done quickly, Nigeria may well be on the verge of unmitigated disaster.

While the effect of climate change and the resultant increase in greenhouse effect is on the front burner globally, Nigeria appears to be paying lip service to both as gas flaring continues unabashedly in the Niger Delta region where the environment is already reeling under the pervasive pressure of oil spillage.

Meanwhile, desertification as a result of changes in rainfall pattern and excess grazing in the North of the country is not helping matters, too. Added to all these is the activity of game hunters that keep decimating different species of animals and birds in the country.

While I concede that the situation of our biodiversity is dire, there are a few steps that would assuage, if not remedy, the situation. First of all, managers of Nigeria’s nature reserves that number over a hundred should be made to sit up. They need to be manned by well- trained personnel with knowledge in modern methods of environmental conservation.

There is need to mount a nationwide campaign to stop bush burning, excess grazing, deforestation, and unauthorised game hunting and lumbering. Governments need to implement laws that protect our environment. An example is the law against gas flaring and disposal of industrial waste into water bodies in the country.

Presently, both appear to be observed in the breach in our country. While there is equally the need to ban the use of polythene bags in the country, stiffer environmental tax should be levied on companies that produce or import non-biodegradable materials into the country.

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Designating species (plants and animals) at the verge of extinction as endangered species that need special protection would equally be of immense help in preserving our biodiversity.

Government should encourage scientists to use modern breeding methods to reproduce endangered species and reintroduce them into their natural environment while tree planting that seems to be an annual ritual in the country should be made to be part of our routine lifestyle.

Research has proven to be a formidable tool in solving various problems facing the world and I believe that providing solutions to our biodiversity challenge would not be an exception. Agricultural and other scientists should ensure that seeds of rare plants are treated and stored in seed banks for future generations.

Despite the controversy associated with it, I believe that some seeds from plants under threats of extinction could be genetically modified to make them more resistant to pests and diseases.

The use of phytoremediation to curb effects of pollution on our biodiversity is another method that could be helpful. Phytoremediation which is the use of plants to treat polluted soils is suitable when the pollutants cover a wide area. This method will be suitable in our country, especially in the Niger Delta area.

There is a saying that ‘just as man travels from place to place, so do plants’. A typical example of ‘travelling’ plant is the rather ubiquitous water hyacinth (Eichhorniacrassipes) which is native to tropical and sub– tropical South America but has found its way into our water bodies (pond, lakes, rivers, etc.).

Such so-called ‘invasive’ plant species such as water hyacinth usually dominate and suppress the growth of other plants in their native environment. When it is not controlled, water hyacinth covers water bodies and blocks sunlight from reaching aquatic plants, thereby causing their death.

While the issue of water hyacinth in the country should be vigorously tackled, every effort must be made to prevent other invasive species from invading our forests and water bodies.

In conclusion, the war to protect our environment in order to maintain biodiversity must be fought methodically with determination and must be won at all cost because the consequences of failure are unimaginable.

Government(federal, state and local) should lead the fight in the country by pooling human and financial resources. It is the duty of government to enact and implement laws that will preserve our biodiversity while every individual and corporate organisation must key into the fight because a nation that loses its biodiversity invariably loses the very essence of life.

Ms Eze, a student at the University of Nigeria Nsukka,wrote from Benin.


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