OVERVIEW OF CONFERENCE THEMES
Marine Pollution, Climate Change, Sustainable Fishing, Blue Economy
Marine Pollution, Climate Change, Sustainable Fishing, Blue Economy
Marine pollution originates from several marine and land-based sources, including riverine discharges, agricultural and industrial run-off, urban outfalls, municipal or industrial wastewater, atmospheric deposition, illegal or indiscriminate dumping, accidents (e.g. oil spills), fishing operations, maritime transport, and off-shore construction. Pollutants, including solid waste, sediment, and industrial and urban runoff, smother nearshore and deep-sea habitats worldwide. Agricultural runoff creates oxygen-deprived “dead zones,” and oil spills (and other pollutants from derelict oil infrastructure), along with the millions of tons of plastic deposited into the oceans each year, harm species and degrade ecosystems. Within the larger issue of marine pollution, plastic marine debris is by far the most prevalent debris item recorded, making up 60-80% of all marine debris. Most of this plastic (~80%) is from land-based sources, with the remaining 20% from the abandonment of derelict fishing gear, shipping (lost cargo, crew waste) and coastal and marine recreation (fishing, cruises, etc.). In addition to marine pollution being a major theme of the conference, a beach clean-up day will be organized as part of the overall celebrations, which will focus on public awareness and education. The conference organizers will aim to involve participants and key target groups throughout Liberia in an active day of cleaning and learning about the importance of the coastal areas. This event will be a key highlight of the event encouraging all to help care for their environment.
Coastal and marine habitats and resources are under threat from pollution, over-harvesting of resources, inappropriate development in the coastal zone, and poor inland and land-based management. Overall, pollution is a major threat to resources, biodiversity, habitats, and economies along the African coastline. Policies and regulations for sustainable coastal development and use of marine resources are quite orchestrated but require a more organized action and sustained resources such as equipment, trained personnel, finance, and more effective policing, monitoring, administration and enforcement of punitive action.
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Coastal and nearshore pollution is closely related to land-use changes such as urbanization and industrialization, intensified agricultural practices, and extraction of high-value products from the environment. Wastes from these, and other, land-use changes do not even need to occur along the coast to have a negative impact on the marine environment. Pollution carried by the rivers and wind can find their way to the marine environment many miles away. Therefore, to be able to successfully deal with coastal pollution issues, there must be close coordination with the management of human activities both at the coast and inland. In the coastal waters of Liberia and the Gulf of Guinea, some trends are of concern. They relate to the high levels of nitrogen contamination leading to algal blooms including harmful algal blooms (HABs) and increased concentrations of certain persistent substances including mercury, both of which pose a health risk to humans and economically valuable fisheries. This session will discuss the state of coastal and marine pollution in Liberia and the region, and what policy and management options are available to reduce further damage and limit future impacts.
Oil contamination of coastal seas originates in most cases from deliberate or accidental spills in connection with transport, runoff from land, and from seeps of oil into the water from the seabed in areas where oil deposits are present. Poor maintenance of shipping vessels coupled with the increased need for fuel around ports have led to increased risk of oil spills along highly populated coasts Shipping in the Gulf of Guinea is the main cause of marine oil spills in the region. The region is also at risk of oil spills in connection with offshore oil production, particularly from derelict production platforms that have not been properly decommissioned. This session will focus on the causes of oil pollution in the region, and the fate and impacts of this type of pollution. The session will discuss oil spill contingency planning, issues related to unsafe production platforms in offshore regions, and possible solutions to lower oil spill risk.
Within the larger issue of marine pollution, plastic marine debris is by far the most prevalent debris item recorded, making up 60-80% of all marine debris. Most of this plastic (~80%) is from land-based sources related to uncollected waste in communities that do not have the waste-management infrastructure. The remaining 20% comes from the abandonment of derelict fishing gear, shipping (lost cargo, crew waste) and coastal and marine recreation (fishing, cruises, etc.). For a long time, plastic pollution was simply considered an aesthetic problem. However, with approximately eight million tons of plastic waste entering the ocean every year, discarded plastic products are now known to pose a severe risk to marine species and ecosystems; place an economic toll on the tourism and the fishing industries; and pose a possible human health risk. In addition, larger pieces of plastics break down into “micro-plastics” which may enter the marine food chain. At this stage, there is limited information as to the problems related to micro-plastics in Liberia and the Gulf of Guinea. However, there is no doubt the best way of managing this problem is to prevent plastics from entering the sea. The session will discuss the extent of the plastic and litter pollution in the region and focus on management options to deal with the problem.
Reducing emissions to limit climate change and (ocean acidification) requires global-scale efforts. While emission reduction targets are being set at the national level, regional governments have a critical role to play in setting and implementing policies to reach national level targets. In addition to setting targets, the state government and the private sector can provide other avenues for climate mitigation and adaptation at the local level. Increased public awareness of the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification and the options for how people can protect themselves against those impacts is vital for gaining support for policy initiatives aimed at climate mitigation and adaptation. Challenges associated with climate change and ocean acidification require enhanced vulnerability and impact assessments, mitigation and adaptation plans, resilience building and disaster risk reduction strategies. Considerable progress has been made in the establishment of observation and early warning systems at the national and regional levels, which has, to an extent, improved effective emergency preparedness and response planning. Not all coastlines are yet covered, however, especially those found in developing countries.
Africa is extremely vulnerable to climate variability and climate change. While contributions to global emissions of greenhouse gases are overall negligible, with the exception of a few countries, activities such as deforestation, inappropriate coastal development, and poor land management contribute to worsening the impact of drought, desertification, flooding, and sea level rise.
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Most of the Liberian population lives within 30 miles of the coast where they are increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Adaptation to the impacts of climate change relies on building the capacity of local communities and the environment to adjust and thrive under a changing environment. Liberia and the countries of the region have an urgent need to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification that are already happening, as well as prepare for future impacts. In order to build more resilient societies, adaptation solutions will have to be developed depending on the unique context of culture, economy, ecology, and governance. Successful adaptation depends on the active engagement of all stakeholders nationally and regionally. Public and private sectors, civil society, and other relevant parties must be involved. These issues will be the topics of this session at the conference.
To avoid the most harmful impacts of climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak no later than 2020. However, as we aggressively seek solutions to solve the climate crisis there is an urgent need to transition to carbon-neutral energy sources and take advantage of nature-based solutions by conserving and protecting carbon-rich ecosystems (such as inland forests and coastal blue carbon ecosystems). It is widely recognized that Liberia, West Africa and indeed the entire continent of Africa has done little to contribute to the climate change crisis that we now face. However, there is a growing opportunity for African nations to become leaders in innovative solutions such as nature-based solutions for mitigation and sustainable green development. Successful large-scale implementation of nature-based activities to reduce and avoid emissions also produce co-benefits that provide additional services. This means that investing in nature-based climate mitigation solutions will allow Liberia, and the region, to allocate limited resources to activities that will promote economic prosperity without having negative effects on the climate. This session will look at climate mitigation through this lens and link local and regional efforts to the global context.
Attempting to reduce carbon emissions without acknowledging a wide range of deeply connected issues can be futile and disempowering. The United Nations Sustainable Development goals linked to Agenda 2030 is an exciting and ambitious set of goals that if achieved would transform the world. What role can Liberia and the region play in moving us towards this transformation and how does this global momentum around sustainable development impact the region? What opportunities does it present? Furthermore, how are the SDGs and Agenda 2030 tied into Nationally Determined Contributions which sit at the heart of the Paris Agreement on climate change? This session will build understanding around these issues and help to develop an exciting action agenda for Liberia to be a regional leader in bringing together the oceans, climate change, and sustainable development.
Overfishing is draining the life from the ocean. Ocean resources have the potential to lead to growth and wealth of countries, but due to human activity, the oceans’ health is significantly deteriorated. If not sustainably managed, fishing can damage fish habitats; for example, fish stocks are affected by things such as pollution, coastal development, and destructive fishing practices. There are several elements of the fishing industry of Liberia that contribute to the overfishing of its waters, including lack of management oversight, weak government regulations, and lack of traceability of fishing activities. In the high seas, there are few international regulations, and those that exist are not always implemented or enforced. These conditions make it difficult to ensure that the fish countries import was caught legally or in a sustainable manner. Unsustainable fishing is also a direct threat to the coastal communities and their livelihoods, especially in terms of poverty and food security. Unsustainable fishing leads to a direct loss from the catches that would otherwise be taken by the country, which has been evident in Liberia’s coastal and offshore fisheries. However, unsustainable fishing also impacts Liberia’s seafood exports, and leads to reduced employment, especially in the post-harvest sector— a sector dominated by women. This, in turn, can have multiple effects across economies, impacting sectors such as labor, transportation, and manufacturing.
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West Africa is rich in marine resources but often much of the potential benefits from fisheries do not flow back into the region. How can Liberia and other West African countries strategically develop its fisheries sector sustainably in a way that ensures that fisheries can contribute to economic prosperity in the long term? In order to achieve this, the fishing sector must be built on thriving, diverse ecosystems and governance structures and fisheries management must support the interests of Liberians and the region and ensure that it is not only distant water fishing nations that are able to derive benefits from supporting the development of the fisheries sector. The talks in this session will shed light on different aspects of this multi-faceted challenge.
Even when a sustainable fisheries development policy is in place, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to be a challenge. Billions of dollars in potential revenue from fishing are lost every year because of IUU and the consequences are often extreme – human rights violations, violence, and environmental degradation. This is a challenge that will require the cooperation of a wide range of actors over many years, but new technology is emerging that may be able to accelerate the process for cost-effective Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) capability in Liberia and the region. This session will focus on both present and future solutions for combatting IUU through monitoring and enforcement drawing on expertise locally, regionally and globally.
Moving towards sustainable fisheries requires robust scientific knowledge about marine ecosystems, fish stock status assessments and much more. Additionally, achieving a sustainable fisheries sector requires cost-effective technology that can enable fishers, government officials, scientists, and others to work together and develop policy from a shared knowledge base that reflects a dynamic ocean. This session will share learning about how to build scientific capacity in support of sustainable fisheries across a large region and how technology transfer alongside scientific capacity building can accelerate progress towards a flourishing and sustainable fishing sector.
The concept of Blue Economy focuses on the decoupling of socio-economic development from environmental degradation. To achieve this, the Blue Economy approach is founded upon the assessment and incorporation of the real value of natural (blue) capital into all aspects of economic activity. Two particularly significant pieces of current and future blue economic growth across Africa and in Liberia specifically are tourism and shipping. Liberia is in the process of reforming its tourism sector to reestablish it as a pillar of its economy. Efficiency and optimization of resource use are paramount to this effort, along with respecting environmental and ecological parameters. In the context of several competing priorities, this strategic thrust is a courageous one, and if done through a responsible ecotourism lens, can lead to Liberia becoming a successful case study for ecotourism development in the region. Conversely, the shipping industry has been growing in Liberia for years, but the regulation, safety, and environmental impact have not kept pace. In this conference, we will address how the shipping industry can develop sustainably and what government needs to be put in place to ensure maritime security related to this sector.
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Shipping and port activities are the backbones of trade, commerce, and economy for many coastal counties like Liberia. Liberia is also one of the largest flag states of the world. Although Liberia and several of the countries have signed most of the important global maritime conventions and treaties related to safety, security and environmental protection, there are several issues in the region that require urgent attention. These problems are related to smuggling, illegal trans-shipment of oil, piracy and armed robbery against ships, as well as other threats to maritime safety and security. In order to optimize the potential for growth in the blue economy, this vital sector must become safe, environmentally sound, energy efficient and secure. The focus of the session will be on how to achieve these goals.
Marine spatial planning (MSP) is an ecosystem-based tool for maintaining marine ecosystem health as well as human health and well-being. As climate change, progress and human populations increase there will be consequences on the marine ecosystem, which will affect particularly the people that directly depends on fishing and other ecosystem services. The development of MSP on the local level in Liberia and the region will provide a tool to assess, understand and secure integral biophysical dynamics, ecological stability, and socio-economic development. This session will focus on how to implement MSP in Liberia and in the region. Particularly challenging is to identify linkages across biotope mosaic and to assess the connectivity over relevant scales, for instance when selecting areas for fishing, mining and drilling, and where marine protected areas (MPAs) should be allocated.
In the rush to develop ambitious plans for growth and prosperity related to the blue economy, many stakeholder groups can be left behind and not well represented in national management plans. Small scale fishers and other vulnerable groups often find themselves at the mercy of a strategy that has failed to account for their role in future economic growth in Liberia and the West Africa region. This session will provide different perspectives on balancing the increasing pace of economic development with supporting livelihoods and human wellbeing and ensuring that prosperity is inclusive. It will also present some innovative ideas around how Liberia and West Africa can access and leverage finance to build an inclusive blue economy.