15 May 2020
Environmentalists Reject NOSDRA’s Report on Dead Fish Along Niger Delta Coastlines
We recall the reports of dead fish washing up on an extensive stretch of the Niger Delta coastline which first broke out on 20th February 2020 when community people from Ogbulagha Kingdom in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State raised an alarm on the massive death of fish, floating and littering their shores. Reports also came from fishing communities of Ondo, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States.
We were pleased that the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) took samples of the dead fish, sediments and water from some of the affected areas, for analysis – after series of outcry from community people, CSOs and other groups.
On 13 May 2020 NOSDRA issued a press release titled: Alleged Mass Fish Kill Along The Coastline of Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States. The title of the statement plays down on, and even questions the fact, of the massive fish kill that was evident in many locations. The title renders the result of the said analysis conducted by the agency questionable.
We expected a detailed and in-depth analysis from NOSDRA working in cooperation with agencies and institutions including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency and Federal Institute for Fisheries Research which they said were informed of the tragic occurrences. While the result of the laboratory analysis may reflect the true composition of the samples, the data interpretation may be misleading. For example, it is a known fact that crude oil comes with a mix of heavy metals such as Cadmium and Chromium which are some of the pollutants from that sector.
NOSDRA’s conclusion that “In the light of the foregoing, noting that hydrocarbon were not responsible for the death of the fishes, the plausible cause(s) could partially be attributable to other anthropogenic activities which are probably land-based” is capable of sweeping this serious issue under the carpet, while the affected communities are left to live with the impacts and uncertainties.
Responding to the NOSDRA statement, Ako Amadi, a Marine Ecologist and former Head, Fisheries Resources Division of NIOMR states: “Fish deaths commonly result from oxygen depletion in the aquatic medium. In the case of this recent occurrence in the Niger Delta, mortalities were reportedly concentrated on the genus Pseudotolithus, the croaker which is a bottom-feeder. It points to the fact that if the deaths had been as a result of ingestion of toxins the entire food web, that is, the benthic fauna of invertebrates including shrimps, crabs, zooplankton and juvenile fish, must have been affected. Evidence could then be deduced from toxicological examination of stomach contents, gills and bladder, or other respiratory and filtration organs of both dead and living croakers for comparison. This has not been the case.”
Ako Amadi states further: “The Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research, NIOMR in Lagos, and ancillary institutions in Port Harcourt and Calabar have enough expertise in this regard. The residence time of suspected toxins in the benthic environment and land-based or ship transport sources are easy to determine. Aquatic toxins do not affect only particular species of fish but all fauna in an affected area. I also fail to see statements on tolerance of croakers and associated living organisms to variations of environmental change in the inshore waters of the affected system.”
Amadi summed his response by stressing that “The NOSDRA report hardly shows any evidence of possible linkages to sudden increases in water temperature and current variations in the Eastern Gulf of Guinea that could have caused ecological hypoxia (oxygen depletion), such as ocean acidification fortified by increased waste (including oil) and heat discharges from coastal industries and shipping as well as from agricultural runoff and mangrove deforestation. The NOSDRA conclusions appear not to have been followed by immediate investigations, which infuses credibility cracks into the report. I hope that we can see more logical results to these investigations than what NOSDRA has currently presented.”
The short statement by NOSDRA declared twice that the contamination was not from hydrocarbon sources. The agency preferred to print fingers elsewhere when they said, “it is commonly observed that most industrial and domestic wastes which contain heavy metal found their ways into drainages and onward transfer to the water bodies”. Assuming this is true, it means the incidence was never an act of nature but a pure case of poisoning of the water bodies from sources that have to be stopped. HOMEF believes the report of laboratory analysis as presented by NOSDRA does not resolve the problem and can be diversionary.
The Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in his reaction expressed deep concerns about the fate of community people who depend on the affected water bodies for sustenance and noted that the situation compounds the struggles of affected community people as they battle the hardships brought by the restrictions occasioned by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Bassey added that what NOSDRA gave is a very basic and tentative explanation merely aimed at ruling out the possibility of the cause being from hydrocarbons. They have mentioned possibility of other chemicals being the cause but went ahead to say that this would only affect fish in restricted areas and couldn’t cause widespread dying of fish.
Bassey insisted: “The NOSDRA statement doesn’t help the situation and doesn’t erase the anxieties of the peoples of the region. It is not new to see a specific fish species dying as this has happened in other countries where, for example, species have succumbed to thermal or temperature increase shocks. It is true that NOSDRA focuses on hydrocarbon pollution and has restricted its review to sources in that field. Seeking to shift blame to other factors, sectors or communities cannot be the end of the story.”
“The ministry of environment and relevant agencies have a duty to tell Nigerians what killed the fish so that we know how to respond to this and future incidents. We are not satisfied with NOSDRA’s report as this doesn’t bring a closure to the saga. Explaining why we experienced a massive death fish on our coasts is not beyond our scientists within and outside government,” he concluded.
For more information, reach:
HOMEF Project Officer, IKIKE