Often ignored by policymakers and wittingly or unwittingly subjected to abuse by the public at large, wetlands are under grave threat of degradation by Liberians and foreign residents alike.
The threat to wetlands is posed mainly by discarded waste, over hunting and fishing as well as the harvesting of wood fuel particularly in coastal mangroves. Such waste, including but not limited to plastic bags, medical waste, human feces and dirty or used fuel, threatens marine species in the various wetlands.
Environmentalists and other concerned stakeholders have consistently called for urgent and practical action aimed at protecting wetlands from abuse. But such concerns have often gone unheeded by authorities responsible for environmental conservation and protection.
Reports from urban areas with coastal mangroves such as Robertsport, Monrovia, Buchanan, Marshall, say wood harvested from mangroves are highly prized by local people for drying fish.
There are also reports of the use of dynamite to kill fish. Even marine turtles and crocodiles are said to be under threat from poaching activities.
Several officials of the Liberia Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the past 12 years have conducted several professional and technical workshops geared towards enhancing the protection of wetlands in Liberia. In spite of support from partners and stakeholders, wetlands including mangrove swamps continue to come under pressure from uncontrolled human activity.
Some examples of wetlands and mangrove swamps that are under threat of abuse in the Monrovia area include Peace Island, SKD Boulevard, King Grey and New Hope communities in Monrovia and Paynesville.
Legal experts point out that environmental laws and regulations are weak and enforcement mechanisms are not robust to safeguard and protect the Liberian environment especially wetlands, which include the mangrove swamps.
Comments and views from Liberians in the affected areas strongly underscore the urgent need for some robust and practical actions on the part of environmental authorities in order to protect the wetlands of Liberia.
57-year old former EPA staff Steven B. Sanford called on the EPA senior staff to design new programs and strategies that will enhance the full protection of all the wetlands and mangrove swamps in Liberia.
“I would greatly appreciate were the EPA and our support partners to focus on the practical application of environmental laws, regulations and policies that will serve to protect our wetlands and mangrove swamps,” Sanford stressed.
Elizabeth Gerald Williams, 48, noted that priority should be placed on the full protection of wetlands and mangrove swamps in Liberia
The former Monrovia sanitary health inspector described the protection of wetlands and mangrove swamps as critical to the development of Liberia’s ecosystem and its vital biodiversity.
She added that there are too many vital and endangered species in the wetlands and mangroves that need all practical protection from the current threat of abuse.
“I really want the EPA and our support partners to wake up and work without fear and favor and fully protect our wetlands and mangrove swamps in our country,” she pleaded.
55-year old environmental advocate Sam K. Collins of Monrovia called on all support partners connected to the environment of Liberia especially the World Bank and United Nations Environmental Program to double up their engagements with the EPA and other relevant stakeholders.
He, however, urged the new Liberian Government to review and formulate concrete short, medium and long range plans that are practical and achievable in the years to come in Liberia.
Collins also underscored the urgent need for substantial funding to the EPA, Ministry of Health, research institutions and other relevant agencies that are connected with the vital protection of wetlands and mangrove swamps in Liberia.
The Convention on Wetlands, called the RAMSAR Convention, is the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Liberia is a signatory to the RAMSAR Convention.
According to the RAMSAR Convention, “Wetlands are vital for human survival. They are among the world’s most productive environments; cradles of biological diversity that provide the water and productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival.
“Wetlands are indispensable for the countless benefits or ‘ecosystem services’ that they provide humanity, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials, and biodiversity, to flood control, groundwater recharge, and climate change mitigation.”
The Convention uses a broad definition of wetlands. This includes all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and swamps