Experts have predicted that sea level may rise by up to six feet before the end of the century as a result of global warming and climate change. Scientists and researchers are also alarming about the number of dead zones and endanger species in our ocean. And, every single day, environmental advocates and ocean champions are warning about massive pollution and plastic waste that are going into our ocean.
Why Liberian Ocean Matters?
With 13.5% of the total land mass covered in water, the coastline of Liberia is an estimated 565-km in length and is home to some of the country’s largest cities, beautiful sandy beaches and estuaries conducive to fishing and tourism. It serves as the spawning ground for different species of sea turtles.
More than half of our population lives along the coast and their survival is directly linked to the ocean. In fact, everyone in Liberia is directly connected to the ocean. Over 90 percent of consumable and other goods are transported to Liberia by means of the ocean. From the stable food-rice- to the petroleum product to everything that keeps our commerce running are associated with the ocean. It is no doubt that the ocean feeds us, protects us, regulates our climate, our weather, and anchors industries from transportation to tourism to trade of all kind and services. Our ocean connects us to the rest of the world, foster our economies and improve the wellbeing of our citizens. Just imagine, without the ocean, what will happen to us.
As a country with the world’s second largest shipping registry, the health of oceans around the world should matter to us greatly. It should form a part of our national security priority and the heartbeat of our foreign policy. The ocean is the engine of our national growth and revenue generation. Hence, we should now begin to concentrate on the health of our ocean because it has the proclivity to shape our country’s future.
Sadly, the way we use and manage our ocean threatens our very existence. The effects of harmful practices and activities along and within our ocean are gradually beginning to hurt us. Some of the few despicable practices include open defecation, waste dumps, marine pollution, illegal beach sand mining, and inadequate assessment of fish population, unsustainable fishing practices, and uncontrollable discharge of municipal wastewater.
Because of these acts, the ocean is becoming more acidic, thus threatening and endangering marine lives. Empirical analysis indicates that at the current rate of pollution, our ocean is projected to have more plastic than fish by 2050. All the more so, the congestion of human settlement along the urban coastal areas in Liberia with inadequate toilet facilities for most homes and misshaped structures further complicate the problem.
Coastal erosion as a result of sea level rise has also compounded the numerous problems. For the first time in a century, there are more people being displaced from the effects of the ‘Rising Ocean’ and climate change. Educational facilities and dwelling places and worship centers and market places are being submerged into the vast Atlantic Ocean with wreckages settled beneath the ocean floor. Our people are becoming homeless due to consistent, persistent and insistent coastal erosion. These problems are mostly prone to Montserrado County and other overcrowded coastal communities. Sadly, most coastal dwellers who contribute significantly to wrecking the ocean have got little or no knowledge on challenges facing our ocean. They carry out open defecation, dump waste, and contaminate our ocean.
Nonetheless, we are forever hopeful despite the problems that have engulfed our ocean. We cannot pretend that we don’t smell feces from our beaches. We cannot turn a blind eye on the constant marine pollution and plastic waste, especially the burial of solid waste on the beaches. And, we cannot sit and wait for coastal communities to be encroached and swallowed by coastal erosion. We simply cannot continue to treat the ocean anyway we want to.
Solving Our Ocean Problems
The problems facing our ocean cannot be solved by a single action from one nation or an individual or a philanthropic organization or within a relatively short span of time. It can neither be solved by shaping blame mentality nor dependency on the wealthy and powerful nations. Whether or not we are poor or rich, developed or undeveloped, young or old, politician or populace, we all have to protect our ocean. We need to come together united to tackle the problem facing our ocean. We must help the weak, support the innovative and join forces for our ocean.
The task is upon us to protect our ocean and prevent pollution. Our ocean problem calls for more realistic and holistic actions. Each of us can make a difference in the way we use our ocean and its resources. We must act with a very high degree of urgency taking into consideration the rate at which we are polluting our ocean. Let us not forget that it is upon us to change the ways we operate within the ocean and find reliable grassroots-based approaches and long-term solutions with national and international commitment.
Every Liberian should get involve utilizing their innovation, determination and dedication. Irrespective of the county of origin, the dialect spoken, religion confessed, social status, the level of education, and family background, we are all connected to the ocean. From the food we eat to the air we breathe and the materials we buy are all connected with the vast ocean. So, we must galvanize our energy, enthusiasm, and ingenuity to act together with one common purpose of ensuring a healthier, safer, and cleaner ocean.
We must take as a matter of urgency safeguarding our ocean for ourselves, our children and grandchildren because our very existence depends on the ocean. We need the ocean more than the ocean needs us.
In Liberia, the facts are glaring. More than half of our people live along the coastal. And, over half of our population directly depend on the ocean for their livelihood. Hence, if we dare not take grassroots actions now, our national security will be detrimental while many of our people will die of starvation.
Our collective efforts can transition into clean beaches and ocean, which could pave the way for immense economic benefits. This could create the much-needed jobs to increase purchasing power, boost infrastructural development, foster tourism and improve trade of all kind and enhance service delivery.
Therefore, we should muster the courage and commitment to crack down on overfishing, marine pollution, illegal and unsustainable fishing practices. In so doing, we must reduce the glaring and galloping effects of climate change, clean our beaches, and begin the designation of marine protected areas.
For overfishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing practices, we must strengthen our marine surveillance and upsurge patrol of the Coast Guards. We can also form a strategic partnership and foster mutual coordination with coastal communities including other state actors. In addition, our country should join the ‘Safe Ocean Network.’ This network would enable us to detect illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices. It would also ensure enforcement of international law and empower us to prosecute those who violate and endanger our ocean.
Our ocean matters to everyone and world leaders are taking actions. The Honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States of America is leading Our Ocean movement alongside a number of international representatives including Presidents, Head of States. In addition, ocean champions from industry, civil society, the philanthropic community, research institution, and academia are supporting a clean and healthy ocean campaign. Secretary Kerry’s ocean conferences have raised $9.2 billion dollars in initiatives and commitments to protect 9.9 million square kilometers of ocean.
Our Ocean movement has also been supported by the Government of the Republic of Liberia and other world leaders through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 14, which calls for concrete actions to protect and conserve our ocean.
While the world leaders are working towards a greener planet, safer ocean, and cleaner air, our government is surely doing her utmost best. The Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia is playing a pivotal role in developing policy and regulation to protecting our ocean. However, more grassroots and community-based actions are needed to clean our beaches, restore our marine habitat, and establish marine protected areas.
Luckily, Youth Exploring Solutions based in Liberia in partnership with a US-based international NGO called IDEAS For Us have begun implementing “Ocean Engagement Dialogue” as part of its project named and styled “Liberian Ocean Matters Initiative”. This project hopes to nurture more ocean champions, intensify coastal cleanup, multiple coastal tree planting, and increase ocean advocacy and outreach activities. Working together with individuals, religious institutions, schools, families, businesses, elected officials, and other stakeholders, we will establish Liberia's first Ocean Day and help protect our ocean for ourselves and posterity.
In the words of U.S. Secretary of State of the United States of America: “With every positive step that we take, with the marine protected areas that we create, with the networks that we create and the safeguards that we enforce to protect against illegal fishing, with the cooperation we pursue to combat climate change and to deepen scientific research – with each of these steps, we are restoring and preserving the health of the ocean.”
About the authors: Urias S. Goll is the Deputy Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org.