The ports are not suitable for very high capacity vessels because of the shallowness of most of them. Another problem is debris in the waters. About 80 per cent of marine litter is believed to be plastics. The problem is not limited to Nigeria.

For instance,  reports and research have shown that, yearly, more than eight million tonnes of plastics end up in the oceans across the world, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism. The damage to ecosystems is put at $13 billion yearly.

To address the menace, the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Partnership Action (GPA) have partnered on how to sustain the management of marine litters in Nigeria.

NIMASA/ UNEP-GPA partnership

The NIMASA / UNEP-GPA draft report: “UNEP-GPA –NIMASA partnership on sustainable management of marine litter in Nigeria’s beaches and waterways: A case study of Lagos,” represents the country’s effort at tackling marine litters and microplastics. It is believed to be an initiative that has continued to attract global attention.

The UNEP, two years ago, launched a global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter by 2022.

Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia, the ‘’#CleanSeas campaign’’ urged governments to pass plastic reduction policies, targeting the industry to minimise plastic packaging and redesign products, calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits before damage.

Experts said the implementation of the NIMASA/UNEP-GPA initiative is vital to the sustenance of the blue economy.

 

‘Blue economy’ threat

As NIMASA and the global shipping industry continue to tackle the menace of plastics waste on waters, facts have emerged that about $13 billion are lost to damage caused to the marine ecosystem by plastic pollution. This, according to stakeholders, is threatening the blue economy agenda.

The Africa Blue Economy Forum (ABEF), for example, revealed that plastic pollution alone costs $13 billion yearly in damages. The forum, in its documents detailing its preparation for its meeting in Tunis, said: “Ninety per cent of ocean plastic waste originates from Asia and Africa, mainly due to mismanagement of waste and can be traced to just 10 rivers, including River Niger.”

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ABEF further noted that oceans were being recognised as a major driver of the world’s economic development. Conservative estimates for the next 12 years suggest that the ocean economy would add yearly global value of about $3 trillion and contribute some 40 million jobs to the labour market.

The body also noted that African governments have a major role to play in tackling ocean pollution and plastic waste in particular, noting that Africa is the second largest continent with 26,000 nautical miles of coastlines and maritime zones, totalling 13 million km2.

ABEF further said linking the issue of ocean pollution with the blue economy development approach could help meet its targets as set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs and the Africa Union’s Vision 2063).

Experts have also warned against dumping of items, such as plastic bottles, bags and cups  into the seas, saying by 2050 there would be more plastics than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds would have ingested the plastics.

Besides, the United Nation has estimated that 15 per cent of litter floats on the sea surface, 15 per cent remains in the water and 70 per cent rests on the seabed.

Also, the experts said 5.25 million plastics, weighing 268,940 tonnes, are floating on the world’s oceans. That’s why it is expedient for shipping firms and crew to comply with rules on ocean plastics reduction.

For instance, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) said it had received warnings from some scientists on the problem, and its impacts on the environment. This is why the IMO adopted an action plan to enhance regulations, and introduced new measures. The plan stipulates actions to be completed by 2025.

 

The hazards

Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman agrees that marine litters are hazardous to vessels such as submarines, passenger ferries, fishing trawlers, and can result in loss of lives.

She explained that the major risks to navigation from marine litter, mostly during poor weather, include furling and entanglement of a vessel’s propeller, which reduces its stability and the ability to manoeuvre; blockage of water inlets by plastic bags; sub-surface debris affecting anchors and equipment deployed from trawlers and research vessels; collisions which can damage a vessel’s propeller shaft seal and hinder recovery procedures.

“Apart from the normal navigational hazards by pleasure craft and commercial ships, the same risks also apply to military activities which are active in the marine, submarine and inter-littoral zones. Marine litter can disturb the physical environment, affecting the ability to detect certain phenomena many of which are important to the Navy’s defence capability,” she said.

 

NIMASA’s initiative

To meet the IMO’s 2025 target, NIMASA inaugurated Marine Litter Marshals early this year.

During the inauguration of the first phase of the initiative with 120 marshals in Lagos, its Director-General, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, charged Nigerians on the sustainable use of ocean resources, adding that there are many activities dependent on the ocean.

Peterside noted that marine litter  impacts on ocean life, marine habitats, human health, and navigational safety with potential impacts on socio-economic development of nations.

According to him, the marshals have been directed to go to the ports, coastlines and littoral communities and enlighten people on the need to maintain cleaner oceans. They were enjoined to keep watch and ensure that the right thing is done so that the ecosystem can be preserved. He warned that the agency would not condone indiscriminate dumping of waste at sea.

He said the need to rid the waters of waste necessitated the agency’s collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Partnership Action (GPA) in 2015 to carry out a study on the marine litter challenge in Nigeria. The outcome, he said, led to the development of the national action plan on marine litter and its campaign concept.

Peterside added: “The presence of marine litter in our waters is impacting negatively on NIMASA’s strategic objectives, most notably the drive to make Nigeria a greener, wealthier and fairer, safer and stronger and healthier nation.’’

Also, stakeholders have said to achieve a sustainable blue economy, there is the need to strengthen pan-African partnerships and encourage more international collaborations.