Marine protected areas (MPAs) are important and powerful tools for biodiversity conservation and management of aquatic ecosystems and balanced cycles. Unfortunately, Nigeria has no formally established marine or fresh water protected areas and is not engaging in constructive mangrove restoration programmes. Also, there is no nationally designated marine park in Nigeria.
The country is highly endowed with coastal and marine resources and has several water bodies which serve as habitat to several biological species including fish, aquatic mammals, reptiles, and other freshwater resources. However, the coastline is faced with numerous challenges (such as climate change, flooding, overfishing, and pollution from industrial, domestic and agricultural effluents) that have predisposed it to rapid and ill- managed degradation. Diverse activities carried out in the coastline includingoil and gas exploration and exploitation, shipping, agriculture, transportation and tourism impact negatively on the marine environment and therefore, marine and coastal ecosystems are not delivering the full suite of ecosystem services upon which humans (especially the coastal communities) rely.
Already, experts and villagers have started noticing rapid decline in fish, planktons, shrimps, tortoise, crabs, crayfish and other species in the Niger Delta coastal territories of the Atlantic Ocean due to unprecedented levels of oil spills caused by inordinate exploitation and exploration of petroleum resources in the region. Environmental pollution in the Niger Delta coastal zone has caused eutrophication and oxygen depletion in lagoon systems, particularly around urban centers, resulting in decreased fish reproduction levels and waterborne diseases.
There is need to develop institutional framework and an all-inclusive fresh water and marine protected areas policy to protect the aquatic ecosystem against destructive and extinctive practices. Although there are no official gazettes of fresh water and marine protected areas in Nigeria, community people through cultural and local knowledge have led and managed the creation of protected areas, protection of some aquatic animal species and even scheduling of fishing periods.
Apart from biodiversity conservation, fresh water and marine protected areas are tools to curb overfishing and the threat of stock collapse which can exacerbate by-catch problems—such as the unwanted interaction with other fisheries, turtles, and even birds while fishing—which lead to waste and increased fish and marine life mortality as non-target species are caught and then discarded .
This policy paper calls for the mapping out and creation of fresh water and marine protected areas in Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta region. It outlines the need for and benefits of such areas, sources of inputs and steps in their establishment, and the associated legal institutional and policy fameworks. This paper can well be adapted and replicated for use across the Congo Basin and the Gulf of Guinea.
Download and read the policy paper here.