• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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Consequences of human activities in the mighty ocean

Turning off Africa’s plastic tap

Climate change poses extreme threats to Africa and other parts of the world where they experience adverse effects like increased temperature, landslides, drought, crop failure, and flooding. These effects are seen in world oceans, where storm intensity and rising sea levels have worsened coastal degradation.

A warm climate will cause sea water to expand and ice over land to melt. Both can cause a rise in sea levels which poses a serious threat to coastal life around the world. Scientists however, agree that the climate change we are seeing today is mostly caused by human activity; climate change is responsible for rise in sea levels.

An environmental impact report shows that shipping operations at sea have significant effects on the environment due to sound pollution, oil spills, exhaust emissions, sewage dumps, and the discharge of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes. In the early part of the 21st Century, studies conducted by some research institutions showed that carbon dioxide emission from shipping is about two per cent of the total globally. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) expected carbon dioxide emission to have risen to 15 per cent by 2020. In its 2018 Climate Change Vulnerability index, the World Economic Forum estimates that climate change will endanger half of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), although Africa contributes the least to global warming per capita.

Africans must imbibe a culture focused on ensuring safe and clean coastal waters and ports and the streets in different parts of the continent. The limitation is that most African nations are not technologically advanced

Some climate activists have argued that regardless of environmental pressure, economic growth is crucial.

Dissociating economic development from environmental pressure would mean ensuring that the latter does not deplete the natural resources needed to sustain future growth. The sea is the centre of life for almost 3 billion people worldwide who live within 60 miles of the coast, supplying one-fifth of their protein.

This is why social and economic development ought to be pursued so as not to jeopardise future generations’ right to access and use the sea. Protecting the sea for the future generation is vital and strategic to life, and we are all duty-bound to protect it.

According to environmentalists, there is a relationship between the people and the environment. The environment is the physical entity and resources of planet earth that exist independently of man.

It comprises living and non-living things on the surface, sub-surface, and atmosphere. People’s lives are highly dependent on the preservation and sustenance of this relationship. In the pre-industrial era, human activities were minimal.

Still, with industrialisation and advances in science and technology, the negative impact of exploitative human activities on the environment has been alarming. For instance, plastics at sea is a new experience for mariners across the world.

In some developing economies, including Nigeria, waste management systems cannot keep up with the pace of waste due to industrial activities. The contributions of industrial wastes globally to marine litter are immense and progressively compromise the survival of the human race.

Some experts believe that the international community should find ways to rid the sea of plastics as part of its environmental impact assessment strategy. Plastics is one of the threats facing world oceans.

One can only imagine the amount of trash in the seas. Besides shocking images of bottles, plastics, polythene bags and other non-degradable items in the ocean, some of these items are found inside fishes caught in water bodies in and around Africa.

When plastics are cast into the sea, they do not go away because they are non- biodegradable materials. What is crucial to humanity is how to bequeath a healthy and sustainable planet earth and a liveable world to future generations.

This implies that a global solution is important to address the problem to avoid a situation where the number of plastics in the world’s oceans would triple.

Human activities cause global warming, reduce natural biodiversity due to over-exploitation and degradation, and destroy marine resources through pollution. Locally, Nigeria faces various environmental-related problems, including air and water pollution, coastal and marine pollution, and a weak waste management system.

Read also: The dark consequences of choosing to ignore impact of climate change in Nigeria

Consequently, the environment is threatened, and Nigerians, especially those in coastal states, ought to act quickly to stop the damage to the environment. It is shameful to see some Nigerians, especially those in Lagos and other coastal areas, drop food scraps, papers, plastics, nylon bags, and empty cans on the streets.

These are biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials that destroy the environment we all live in. This negative attitude, which is rapidly becoming a culture, reflects some Nigerians’ ignorance regarding the importance of the environment to their survival.

Besides chemical leaks, hazardous waste dumps, and harmful activities, ships off the coast contribute to ever-increasing maritime and riverine contamination. This is compounded by a carefree attitude toward a sustainable aquatic ecosystem.

During rainfall, which is usually severe in coastal states, human-created wastes, which could not be effectively managed, are swept from the streets into the ocean by the flood.

Industries along the coastlines dispose of their refuse into the harbour, and when the tide changes, the wastes flow ashore. There are occasions when decomposed bodies of human beings and animals are found in harbours.

The volume of activities within Nigerian water in my view is enormous, requiring the enforcement of existing laws on environmental pollution.

Since the 1970s, researchers have studied how to reduce the risks that thousands of tonnes of waste pose to the marine ecosystem.

According to data from a World Economic Forum survey, by 2050, there could be more plastics in the oceans than fish. The study, released sometime in 2016, shows that almost 32 per cent of all plastic packaging make their way into natural ecosystems, including the oceans.

Oceanographers predict that about 8 million tonnes of plastics will likely end up in the oceans each year. This, according to statistics, is equivalent to a dump truck full of plastic waste every minute of the year.

Thus, for countries whose citizens depend on the oceans for their primary livelihood or source of protein, the fish available for consumption would have ingested plastics and may die as a result. I hold, therefore, that maritime nations need to get rid of plastics in the oceans.

Africans must imbibe a culture focused on ensuring safe and clean coastal waters and ports and the streets in different parts of the continent. The limitation is that most African nations are not technologically advanced.

The technology being referred to here is not a factor of production but that which is required in the continent’s organised capacity to effectively regulate and reduce pollution, including its devastating effects within the maritime environment. Although, technology affects the maritime environment negatively by the pollution it generates, recycling, reusing and re- purposing plastic items can reduce environmental impact. Thank you.

Excerpts from the book titled “Developmental Challenges of Seapower in Africa: Securing Ships, Ports and People,” by Rear Admiral (Rtd) Michael Akinsola Johnson. Published August 15, 2022.