Africa’s oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them are under serious threat from climate change and other dangers. The Great Blue Wall initiative is not just about protecting seascapes
but stimulate a sustainable blue economy. Faustine Ngila has the details.
Rising sea levels, high ocean temperatures, cyclones, floods and increased salinization of seawater have caused annual loss of lives and livelihoods, hunger, malnutrition, loss of assets and human displacement, particularly affecting the continent’s coastal communities.
Recognizing the urgent need for action to counter these effects of climate change, the Great Blue Wall (GBW), an initiative that has been at the forefront of promoting the blue economy, climate adaptation and of resilience in Africa, was born during COP 26 in 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.
The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) states include the East African coastal nations of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa, as well as the island states of Comoros, of Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and the French overseas territories of Mayotte and Réunion.
These nations, in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), launched the GBW as a network of marine and coastal areas conserved to benefit biodiversity and local livelihoods and enable communities to become guardians of the ocean.
This is a movement that was essentially launched to conserve and restore marine and coastal biodiversity while harnessing the development of a sustainable and regenerative blue economy.
The Great Blue Wall is inspired by the Great Green Wall of Africa, created in 2007 to combat desertification in countries including Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Mali.
Nassim Oulmane, head of green economy at ECA’s Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resource Management Division, says the WIO region is home to pristine coral reefs, mangrove forests rich in carbon and sheltered seagrass beds. This is home to abundant marine life including important fish species, sharks and rays, turtles, seabirds and marine mammals.
However, due to climate change and other factors, Oulmane explains, the deterioration of the WIO ecosystem is accelerating, creating dramatic impacts on biodiversity as well as human societies.
“Threats linked to uncontrolled coastal development are increasing; deforestation of mangroves; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; maritime traffic; overexploitation of resources; destructive fishing practices; unregulated tourism; oil and gas exploration; and the exploitation of heavy sands,” notes Oulmane.
The GBW aims to create a nature-friendly African coast that builds the resilience of societies to reverse nature loss by 2030.
The initiative aims to create interconnected, protected and conserved marine areas to counter the effects of climate change and global warming in the WIO region, which is home to 38% of the planet’s coral reef species.
The GBW also aims to unlock the potential of the blue economy to become a key driver of nature conservation and sustainable development at a time when only around 7% of the region’s coastal and marine environment benefits from conservation. some form of protection, according to the West India Office. Ocean Marine Science Association.
Ocean resources under threat
While the GBW initiative aims to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030, overfishing, pollution, climate change and extractive industries are taking a toll on key ecosystems.
According to UNESCO, only about 5-8% of the Indian Ocean marine area has some form of legal protection, which is well below the 30% target.
A study published by the University of Oxford in January indicates that Seychelles is choking on plastic debris accumulated at 27 sites along its coastline, with plastics coming from as far away as Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. Lanka.
Regarding climate change issues, Seychelles’ Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism, Sylvestre Radegonde, said last year: “Seychelles is not at all responsible for what is causing sea level rise, but we suffer from it.
Even Aldabra Atoll, the world’s second largest coral atoll and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a special reserve in the Seychelles and home to the world’s largest population of giant tortoises, is under imminent threat from change. climatic.
To address this problem, the country’s President, Wavel Ramkalawan, has pledged to protect 100% of his country’s seagrass and mangrove ecosystems by 2023 under the GBW initiative.
Mauritius, located in an active tropical cyclone basin, is already experiencing sea level rise faster than global averages, while also facing accelerated coastal erosion and coral bleaching. To remedy this, the government has developed a 10-year climate policy.
But island nations remain grappling with a financing challenge. According to Jean-Paul Adam, director of policy, monitoring and advocacy at the UN, these countries should have priority in climate financing. “These countries often have to borrow at high costs and accept frameworks that are not necessarily adapted to their needs. There is virtually no country in the world that is as vulnerable to climate change as small island states,” he says.
Climate change is also expected to make life even more difficult for residents of the Comoros archipelago, one of the poorest countries in the world. But in June this year, the Moroni Declaration for Ocean and Climate Action in Africa was signed by GBW members.
It calls for a network of regenerative and inclusive coastal seascapes as part of the GBW initiative. It also calls for increased public and private investment in sustainable coastal and marine value chains, responsible fishing, green infrastructure, ecotourism, renewable energy and blue innovation.
The Brookings Institution Research and Education Think Tank reports that small-scale and commercial fishing are essential to the food security and economies of the more than 70 million people living along the coast, while The region’s fishing industry contributes 4.8% of the world’s fish catch, or about 4.5%. million tonnes of fish per year.
Marine assets in the Western Indian Ocean region are conservatively valued at $333 billion and provide at least $21 billion annually to the regional economy through marine and coastal tourism, carbon sequestration and to fishing.
Deterioration of ocean ecosystems
A recent IUCN study, for example, found that all coral reefs in the western Indian Ocean are at high risk of collapsing over the next 50 years. The reefs of island nations in the WIO region have been found to be particularly threatened.
Commenting on the study, Mishal Gudka, senior scientist and program manager at the Center for Coastal Ocean Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO), East Africa and co-author of the work, said that researchers have detected overfishing of large predators across all oceans. the reefs from which they obtained their data.
The Founding Director of CORDIO East Africa, Dr David Obura, who is also the Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Coral Specialist Group and lead author of the report, indicated that even While it was previously known that coral reefs are declining, research has highlighted precisely to what extent.
The deterioration of these ocean ecosystems also has broader global implications. The IUCN notes that when coastal ecosystems, which also extend to mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass beds, are globally degraded, lost or converted, massive amounts of carbon dioxide (approximately 0.15 at 1.02 billion tonnes each year) are released into the environment. atmosphere or ocean, which equates to around 19% of global carbon emissions from deforestation.
Since the launch of the GBW, two seascapes have been officially designated: the Tanga Pemba Seascape in Tanzania, an IUCN Category VI Marine Protected Area, and the Quirimbas Seascape in Mozambique.
“The GBW’s ambition is to protect two million square kilometers of marine areas, restore two million hectares of critical coastal and marine ecosystems, and thereby help sequester 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and create 1 million blue jobs by 2030,” says Nassim Oulmane of the CEA. .
Through this initiative, Africa has the opportunity to change its narrative on ocean protection, as GBW represents the much-needed change in mindset when it comes to development. This will help achieve a nature-friendly world by 2030, making nature an engine of natural regeneration, while unlocking its blue economy and sustainable livelihood opportunities and empowering local communities and stakeholders the means to become stewards of the oceans.
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