Between 340,000 and 980,000 hectares of mangrove forests are either lost or degraded annually due to humans and corporations’ activities such as crude oil and plastic pollution, unregulated harvesting, urbanisation, so-called land reclamation, dredging activities and the spread of the invasive Nipa Palm.
These were part of the welcoming words of Nnimmo Bassey at Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF’s School of Ecology on “Shifting the Power Lines” on Tuesday.
Bassey said mangrove forests protect the coast from storms and waves, and are very valuable for climate change mitigation.
HOMEF is collaborating with Oilwatch regional groups in Latin America and South-East Asia on the “Shifting the Power Lines” project, with activities including Stilt Roots Dialogues with fishers, research on mangroves, poetry and coalescing of stories of resistance, resilience and innovation with regard to socio-political power relations and power modes from fishers in Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia.
Speaking at the opening of the event, Bassey, HOMEF’s Director, noted that the vital place of the narrative strategy is in awakening memories and building consciousness for action.
He said: “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 shows that the Niger Delta mangrove ecosystem is the breeding ground of more than 60% of commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Guinea.
“Thus, degraded mangrove or losses in the Niger Delta affects fish production and the fisheries value-chain in the Gulf of Guinea.
“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% of the global impact has occurred in the Niger Delta.
“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, urbanisation, so-called land reclamation, dredging activities and the spread of the invasive nipa palm.”
Bassey gave the example of Bundu in Port Harcourt Rivers State, where he said there was a need to recover the mangrove.
“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 organisations.
“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.”
He recalled a visit to a vast area of destroyed mangroves by a multinational at Mage in the Guanabara Bay area not too far from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which the fishers term “the cemetery of mangroves”.
Bassey recalled that during the visit in 2012, one fisher said: “We are resisting because we have no options. We might live or die.
“Our death may not result from gunshots, but because our livelihoods have been destroyed. We are not seeking to be rich; we just want to live our lives in dignity.”