The coast is key



The coast is key



E. S. DIOP

outlines an urgently needed integrated programme of
marine and coastal zone management for West Africa





African woman holding tray of prawns

The coastal zone and the marine environment are the keys to the economies of the West African coastal states. Over the last few decades, they and their resources have been of unsurpassed economic importance, especially for fishing, tourism, industry and the development of ports. They continue to be so.

The West African coastal zone and marine environment is made up of highly productive ecosystems of great biological diversity. The estuaries and mangrove swamps yield a high organic output; rich fishing zones lend themselves to fish farming; and their fish and other living resources make a major contribution to the health of the economies of the West African coastal states. The coasts and their waters also produce such useful materials as salts, shells, heavy minerals and peat, while the coastal areas themselves have great potential for tourism, fishing and leisure.

But in recent decades, these two major ecosystems have been subjected to growing stress from natural and human-induced changes which have many and varied causes. The development of infrastructure, improper use of their resources and extensive contamination by pollution, have all exacerbated their degradation. The impact of global climate change has led to frequent flooding, salt-water intrusion or severe erosion in some coastal regions of our planet.

Other factors and major problems threatening the survival of the marine and coastal environments of West Africa include:

- The growing poverty of the communities living in coastal areas and the degradation of the coastal zone and marine environment, particularly through over-exploiting (or anarchically exploiting) mangrove wood, salts and other resources, through destroying nursery zones for fish and, in some instances, through dynamite fishing.

- The constantly increasing pressure from the high concentration of population, especially in the large coastal towns. This intensifies marine pollution both from the land - such as sewage and domestic waste water, agricultural and industrial waste - and from sea-borne sources.

- The physical contamination and destruction of crucial habitats that are occurring virtually everywhere on the West African coast. This is a grave cause of concern because restoring them will take several decades, and it should be taken into account in all strategies for tackling the effects of global changes and their possible impact on marine systems and on the sea level.

- Some natural forms of environmental changes such as the dramatic reduction of mangrove swamps, dying as a result of the hypersalination of some estuaries, and the decline in rainfall - and increase in the salinity of soils and large areas of surface and underground water - due to the increasing aridity of the climate, as in Senegal.

- The malfunctioning of some natural local ecosystems in delta regions, lagoons and estuaries as a result of inadequate water supply and control installations.

- The harmful use of certain fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

- The incipient invasion of freshwater surfaces by water weeds and other floating-leaved plants.

- The salination and acidification that has reduced the agricultural potential of some mangrove swamps converted into paddy fields.

- The very poor health and hygiene of the communities living in many coastal areas, including the high incidence of bilharzia that has appeared upstream of the dams built on many coastal rivers.

Integrated marine and coastal zone management programmes for West Africa must be established if sustainable development is to be achieved. Several governments have recognized this and embarked on initiatives, especially within the framework of the various National Environment Action Plans. Sectoral projects have not improved the situation much - far from it - and nor have the many existing laws and regulations designed to protect and safeguard the marine environment and coastal zone. The African coastal states must face these challenges in the coming years in their efforts to establish and implement integrated management programmes that are sufficiently coherent and effective to achieve sustainable development (see table).

The programmes should place emphasis on:

- The integrated management, protection and sustainable development of the coastal and marine zones.

- The rational use and conservation of their biological resources.

- The study of the fundamental uncertainties concerning the management of the marine environment and climate change.

Criteria that need to be taken into account in establishing these programmes include:

- Identifying and assessing the problems and establishing priorities in consultation with local communities.

- Drawing up action plans which should both be simple and flexible, and as comprehensive as possible. These should set management targets for the priority problems and their ultimate objective must be to reverse the deterioration of the marine and coastal ecosystems.

- Developing strategies and measures, including integrated management, with the participation of the communities concerned, of representatives from local government and authorities and the relevant socio-economic sectors, including NGOs and women.

- Using science and technology to ensure efficient implementation of integrated management programmes.

- Defining criteria for assessing the effectiveness of the strategies selected.

- Conducting environmental impact studies to assess possible solutions.

- Taking steps to protect threatened marine species and fragile habitats in the coastal zones, with the participation of the communities concerned, with a view to sustainable development.

- Identifying and establishing a viable framework for partnership, and efficient cooperation and coordination mechanisms, at both national and regional levels; this could help create data banks to provide better information on these vulnerable zones.

- Applying the precautionary principle in planning for more rational and efficient management of the coastal and marine ecosystems.

- And lastly, given the complementarity of the coastal and marine zones in West Africa, ensuring that their overall management is implemented on a regional basis.


E. S. Diop is Professor at the University CAD of Dakar and advisor to the Senegalese Minister for the Environment on marine and coastal issues.


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