The event under the theme “Sustainable Ocean for All” brought together 250 youth and student representatives from West Point Township, the Borough of New Kru Town, and Sinkor situated alongside the coast in urban Montserrado County to listen, learn and exchange ideas to addressing some of the most critical issues and threats to our ocean in a coordinated and impactful way.
It also created a platform for inter-generation and multi-disciplinary interaction to act local and think global in making the ocean sustainable for all through various voluntary grassroots Community Action Projects fueled by 100 percent volunteers’ power and ran on a zero budget.
Many dignitaries that participated in this crowd-sourcing summit included Lilieth Whyte, Economic Officer of the U.S. Embassy Monrovia, Dr. Eva Ohlsson, Deputy Head of Development Cooperation at the Embassy of Sweden, Charles Coffey, President of the Press Union of Liberia, Ernest Omaboe of the West Africa Maritime Security Consultancy, the Commissioner of West Point and a host of other personalities.
Earlier speaking, Stephen B. Lavalah, founder & executive director of Youth Exploring Solutions stated that the Liberian Ocean Matters Summit stems from his organization participation in the third Ocean Conference convened by the Honorable John F. Kerry, former Secretary of State of the U.S. Department of State.
Lavalah indicated that Liberia’s first Ocean Summit was designed to inform, inspire, and involve young people alongside people of all ages and gender to take voluntary grassroots community action initiatives to protect the ocean.
“The Ocean Summit engaged, educated and empowered young Liberians and other segment of the population to become “Ocean Champions” to intensify coastal clean-up, multiply coastal tree planting, and increase ocean advocacy in partnership with individuals, families, businesses, religious institutions, media, civil society leaders, elected officials and government agencies among other stakeholders” the passionate ocean advocate pointed out.
Lavalah continues: “More than half of our population lives along the coast and their survival is directly linked to the ocean. Over 90 percent of consumable and other goods are transported to Liberia by means of the ocean. From our stable food—rice—to the petroleum product we use and to everything that keeps our commerce running are associated with the ocean”.
The youth leader urged young people to become Ocean Champion and avoid open defecation, dumping of solid waste directly in the ocean, illegal beach sand mining, unsustainable fishing practices, and uncontrollable discharge of municipal wastewater.
He called on the Government and people of Liberia to concentrate on the health of our ocean because according to him it has the proclivity to shape our country’s future and even threaten national security.
Delivering the keynote address, Madam Lilieth Whyte, Economic Officer of the U.S. Embassy Monrovia who spoke on the topic “Steps to Safeguard the Ocean”, disclosed that oceans are the lifeblood of planet Earth and humankind.
“Oceans flow over nearly three-quarters of our planet and hold 97 percent of the planet’s water. They produce more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere and absorb the most carbon from it. The ocean also covers 72 percent of the Earth” the U.S. Diplomat indicated.
Madam Whyte warned that the ocean as our planet’s life source system is in danger and it faces major threats ranging from the global climate change to pollution to habitat destruction to invasive species and a dramatic decrease in ocean fish stocks.
“These threats to the ocean are so extensive that more than 40 percent of the oceans have been severely affected and no areas have been left untouched. Consequently, humanity is losing the food, jobs, and critical environmental services that a healthy ocean generates” the U.S. Embassy Monrovia Economic Officer admonished.
Madam Whyte indicated that “No matter how far from the shore you live, oceans still affect your life and the lives of your families and friends, classmates, and colleagues. The air that you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, the products that keep you warm, safe, informed, and entertained – all can come from or are transported by the ocean”.
“The sheer numbers of people who use and depend on the ocean, and sometimes the unwise practices we adopt, have created problems such as over-harvesting of resources, reduction in biodiversity, and degradation of marine habitats and species among others. We risk the very ecosystems on which our survival depends” Madam Whyte noted.
The U.S. Diplomat further call on everyone to become stewards of our oceans, because according to her every breath we take, every drop we drink, we’re connected to the ocean. Our planet depends on the vitality of the ocean to support and sustain it.
For her part, Dr. Eva Ohlsson of the Embassy of Sweden who spoke on the topic “Saving the Ocean and Environment: What Can Young People do?” stressed that the ocean has become a garbage dump, fish are depleted, the vital mangrove forests are disappearing so there will be even less fish since they are the nursery for fish and there is no protection from storms which results in landslides and inundations.
“The ocean produces the oxygen we breathe and food for billions of people, and it balances the temperature and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is a gift from nature to us people but we have not been so good in taking care of this vital ecosystem service and we are in problems” Dr. Ohlsson asserted.
The Swedish diplomat emphasized that the surface waters are getting warmer because the ocean is absorbing the global warming caused by the fossil fuel burning. She also stated that in turn, the warmer and more acidic ocean water kills the coral reefs that are very important for fish as a cradle for the baby fish, food, and protection.
The Deputy Head of Development Cooperation at the Embassy of Sweden Monrovia pledged her country will support international organizations to strengthen developing countries’ knowledge and capacity to handle ocean effects of climate change.
“Litter and microplastics in oceans and marine food chains are spreading at a catastrophic pace. We urgently need to identify the pathways of pollution, from land to sea, and take necessary action” Dr. Ohlsson added.
Speaking on the topic “Ocean Health and Its Security Implication for Young People”, Ernest Omaboe disclosed that young people must establish voluntary grassroots community action initiatives to prevent marine pollution and derive sustainable solutions to ensuring making the ocean cleaner, safer and healthier.
The youthful Ocean Summit participants unanimously agreed to conduct community outreach initiatives to prevent solid waste disposal on the beach and in the ocean, end open defecation along the beaches, and organize a local task force to regularly patrol the beaches and report illegal sand mining activities.
Meanwhile, a female participant of the summit is calling on the coastal community leaders and the Liberian government to provide latrine facilities, designate sites for the collection of solid waste, and livelihood for people involved in illegal sand mining so as to curtail marine pollution and restore ocean health.