The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in collaboration with the United Nations Environmental Protection and regional host, West African Biodiversity and Climate Change (WABiCC), are holding a three-day meeting on protecting the marine environment from transatlantic challenges that negatively affects water resources, fisheries, waterways, coastal habitats and the tourism sector.
The regional meeting leading to the establishment of WABiCC in West Africa was held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in November 2015. It brought together marine biologists, oceanographers, policy experts from seaweed affected countries and organizations working on marine and coastal biodiversity management.
The West Africa Regional Strategy Validation Meeting on Sargassum Seaweed and Marine Coastal Invasive Species in Liberia seeks to develop an existing regional strategy as well as validate and formulate a policy recommendation for an additional protocol to the UN Environment Program (UNEP) Abidjan Convention on the management of invasive species. The UNEP Abidjan Convention was held in 2011.
Sargassum is free-floating brown seaweed that blossoms naturally in the warm waters of the Sargasso Sea of the Northern Atlantic Ocean.
According to experts, there has been an explosive quantity of Sargassum seaweed reaching the shores of the countries of the Caribbean and West Africa, inflicting severe ecological and socioeconomic impacts, particularly to the tourism sector and coastal fishing activities.
At yesterday’s opening ceremony in Monrovia, the Regional Coordinator of UNEP/Abidjan Convention, Abou Bamba, attributed the free-flow of Sargassum Seaweed to warming of the ocean due to climate change. The discharge of nutrients (mainly nitrogen and phosphorous) from agricultural runoff and wastewater originating from point sources and from river sources such as the Congo and Amazon Rivers, and the disposition of iron and nutrient-rich Saharan dust on the ocean are also blamed for the profuse growth of the seaweed.
“Preventing the occurrence of marine bio-invasion such as Sargassum Seaweed is by far the best option to avoid ecological damage to the region’s native marine vegetation and related socioeconomic activities,” Mr. Bamba said.
Countries that are affected in West Africa, according to Bamba, are Benin, La Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
“Given the regional and trans-Atlantic nature of Sargassum and its impacts on the coastlines in the Caribbean and West Africa, addressing the problem would therefore require regional and global coordinated action beyond national jurisdictions,” he told the participants.
He added that implementing regional adaptive strategies will require greater understanding of the seasonal landing of seaweeds including their growth dynamics, economic potential use, and outlining experimented use of Sargassum seaweed as bio-fuel, soil ameliorants, fertilizers and livestock feeds.
Bamba urged participants to be guided by the need to balance the environmental consideration of the management of marine and coastal seaweeds, and the ultimate necessity for social inclusion of coastal communities.
The Focal Point of UNEP/Abidjan Convention in Liberia, Sheck Sheriff, said in his remarks that besides Sargassum’s threat to the region, there are also threats of other environmental challenges such as floods and famine due to climate change, pollution of water bodies due to industrialization and urbanization and degradation of coastal resources as a result of human activities.
“These and many other challenges require our joint efforts. We need to take urgent action such as appropriate technology development, research, as well as capacity building, education, and training. Raising awareness of all stakeholders including decision makers and practitioners to better understand and participate holistically in addressing these challenges,” was another initiative emphasized by Sheriff.