My attention was recently drawn to a statement credited to the Minister of State for Environment, Barr Sharon Ikeazor, and published in a newspaper on 17 Sep 2020, captioned “Nigeria Lacks Marine Protected Areas Despite 11,600 sqkm Coastline – Minister”. It was further reported that the Minister observed that the absence of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) prompted the Federal Ministry of Environment (FME) to initiate plans for a National Mangrove Restoration project to assist in the control of coastal erosion, restoration of polluted areas and protecting marine animals.
The assertion/lamentation of the Minister is correct and well-founded. What is, however, incorrect in the Minister’s declaration is the allusion to Nigeria having a coastline of 11,600 sqkm. This is incorrect on 2 grounds. First, Nigeria has a coastline of about 852km and a maritime space of about 315,240sqkm seaward of the baseline. This represents about 34.1 per cent of Nigeria’s landmass of 923,768sqkm. It could also be rightly said that Nigeria’s maritime space is about one-third of Nigeria’s landmass, or Nigeria’s landmass is about 3 times the size of its maritime space. All the 3 representations of Nigeria’s landmass-maritime space figures would be factually correct. Secondly, the unit for the measurement of maritime spaces is nautical mile (nm), while the unit for the measurement of land spaces is the kilometre (km). A coastline, as the name suggests, represents the length of the coast in the form of a line. Although referring to a maritime stretch, the km is often adopted against the nm because of the land-sea interface along the coast. However, the unit “sqkm” is a product of length and breadth signifying the area of bounded spaces, and not a line measurement, as in the case of a coastline.
The fact of the non-existence of MPAs in Nigeria’s maritime domain became evident to me whilst preparing to participate in the First Global Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi, Kenya in 2018, under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This discovery was made during the rapid study of the British Admiralty chart folios covering Nigeria’s maritime domain to identify and classify Nigeria’s MPAs in support of the blue economy ideals, preparatory to the conference. Further consultation with experts in the FME and the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) validated the observation that there is no MPA or conservation grounds similar to charted Spoil Areas or Foul Grounds in Nigeria’s jurisdictional maritime zones of Internal Waters (IW), Territorial Waters (TW), Contiguous Zone (CZ) and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Thus, the Minister’s claim is correct on this note.
Comparatively, the MPA is to the hydrosphere what the Games Reserve Park (GRP)/Nature Conservation Area (NCA) is to the lithosphere. They are, by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Charting Regulations, to be designated and clearly marked on large scale charts covering the locus of the MPA. This is because an MPA is no different from any other space on the open sea, unless it is surveyed, and properly charted for mariners, particularly fishermen/trawlers, to stay off the charted area in order for the flora and faunas in that protected ecosystem to gestate for greater yield, enhanced sustainability and averting possible species extinction.
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”. Ecosystem services refers to the 4 broad categories of benefits humans derive from natural environment and healthy ecosystems namely provisioning, such as food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and oxygen; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.
The UN Database on Protected Areas, which records MPAs submitted by countries, estimates that more than 17,000 MPAs protect more than 25million sqkm of ocean. This implies that nearly 7.5 per cent of the ocean, an area the size of North America, is being protected. However, the Marine Conservation Institute, in its Atlas of Marine Protection, provided a conservative 2.6 per cent of the ocean as being managed in true MPAs. Another important fact about the MPA is that, MPA is one of the ecological conservation tools known as Area Based Management Tools (ABMTs) adopted for ocean sustainability. Different international maritime and maritime-related organizations employ the ABMT to administer different parts of the ocean as follows: Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEIs) adopted by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) deep-sea mining, Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for global shipping routes, and Marine Migratory Species Network (MMSN) adopted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS). Others are Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) adopted by UNEP for the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (MVMEs) adopted by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), and World Heritage Sites adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is instructive to note that of all the ABMTs, only the MPA apply to jurisdictional maritime spaces spanning from internal waters to the EEZ.
The establishment of MPAs is one of the essential hallmarks of the existence of the blue economy in any given national maritime domain. The other essentials are the establishment of ocean sustainability strategies, Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and credible Maritime Security (MS) within designated maritime domains. It is in recognition of the centrality of MPAs to the sustainable development of the oceans, that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 (UNSDG 14) tagged “Life Below Water”, established Targets 14.2 and 14.5, mandating the protection and conservation of at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. Relatedly, the IUCN, which is an international conservation authority, recommended the protection of at least 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030. Thus, both SDG 14, which is a blue economy SDG, as well as the IUCN validate the establishment of MPAs as credible ocean conservation strategy.
Nigeria is a signatory to the UNSDG, and is expected to establish MPAs under signatory-treaty obligations. Meanwhile, some of the African signatories to the UNSDG have since established their MPAs. For instance, Seychelles, with a coastline of 491km and EEZ of about 1.37 million sqkm, has emplaced over 40,000 sqkm MPA. This is considered to be an area larger than Germany or twice the size of Great Britain, and represent 30 per cent coverage of Seychelles maritime domain. Similarly, South Africa, with a coastline of about 3,900km and EEZ of about 1.5 million sqkm, has established 42 MPAs representing 5 per cent of its maritime domain. Also, Kenya, with a coastline of about 536km and 142,000sqkm EEZ, has established 14 MPAs, 4 of which are fully/highly protected, while 10 are less protected/unknown. However, Nigeria with about 852km coastline and 170, 600 sqkm EEZ, does to have an MPA, in contravention of its UNSDG treaty obligations. Worthy of note is the fact that these 3 countries have adopted the blue economy as a national sustainable development strategy. Thus, it may be fitting to deduce that the non-existence of MPAs in Nigeria’s vast maritime domain is an indicator of the non-adoption/implementation/existence of a blue economy in the country.
The lack of knowledge and awareness of the potential economic value of existing marine resources within the maritime domain, referred to as maritime wealth blindness and prevalent in most developing African countries such as Nigeria, is largely responsible for the absence of MPAs in the country’s maritime space. This is because deep sea research, which is extremely expensive and requires advanced technology, is required to create maritime wealth awareness through purposeful Research and innovation. This has been the bane of NIOMR researches over the years. Hence, NIOMR has not been able to appropriately produce Nigeria’s species composition and spread within the nation’s maritime domain. It has also not been able to provide data on economically important ecosystems such as seamounts, hydrothermal vents, cold seeps and cold-water corals which are rare and vulnerable, but rich in deep sea minerals and Marine Genetic Resources (MGR). The MGRs have great utility value in both existing and upcoming biotechnology applications in the pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetic industries.
To establish MPAs in Nigeria’s maritime space, all the relevant stakeholders comprising the NIOMR, Federal Department of Fisheries (FDF), FME, Nigerian Navy (NN), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and coastal communities, amongst others, have to be involved. Additional to its statutory functions, NIOMR would have to identify, through sustained research, the relevant ecosystems requiring conservation, while the FDF would have to determine the economic aquatic constituents of the ecosystem. Similarly, the FME would have to access environmental impacts that the non-conservation of such spaces would have on the nation, thereby providing justification(s) for its protection, while NIMASA would be expected to monitor pollution within the MPA. Furthermore, the NN would be expected to survey, chart, provide security and enforce conservation compliance, just as the NPA would be expected to notify shippers of declared MPAs within the port areas, if any. Lastly, the coastal communities would have to be brought on board to provide support through their buy-in on declared MPAs and the provision of local intelligence. There is a cultural dimension to the establishment of MPAs, and this often reside with the coastal communities.
In a blue economy, the Marine Spatial Planning Authority (MSPA), designated through government policy and credible legislation, coordinates all the aforementioned activities aimed at establishing a functional MPA within jurisdictional maritime spaces. However, there is presently no designated MSPA in Nigeria, hence the frequent and unwarranted tussle between different Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government to exercise ultra vires control within the nation’s maritime space. Nigeria is yet to establish a blue economy through appropriate policy formulation and accompanying legislative enactment. This, in part, could be responsible for the absence of MPAs in the nation’s maritime domain.