Sierra Leone Approves Oil Spill Sensitivity Map, Marine Report
ABIDJAN, 23 Feb 2015 – Sierra Leone has endorsed two reports that recognize the threats to its marine and coastal environment, and which would contribute to a future integrated management of its coastal zone.
The Coastal and Marine Oil Spill Sensitivity Mapping for Sierra Leone, and the State of the Marine Environment Report for Sierra Leone were validated 22 January at a workshop comprising government ministries responsible for marine and coastal zone affairs, the University of Sierra Leone, and non-governmental bodies with environmental and conservation interests.
Mapping of the country's entire coastline for susceptibility to oil spills began in 2014. Mapping was carried out by Senegal's Centre for Ecological Monitoring and covered an area 10 kilometres inland from the entire shoreline. Offshore oil exploration has raised the government's awareness of the possibility of accidents
“Reducing the risk of oil spills is the most appropriate strategy for minimizing the impact to the environment and coastal resources,” Haddijatou Jallow, executive chairperson of the Environment Protection Agency-Sierra Leone, told the 36 participants at the workshop.
This was why, she said, the agency had ensured that all oil exploration companies in Sierra Leonean waters undertook a comprehensive environment assessment and developed oil spill contingency plans before starting operations.
“We are also in the process of developing relevant legislations on standards and guidelines for oil and gas sector,” she added.
In a related development, the Abidjan Convention Secretariat just ended its panel of experts meeting on 19 February to draft regional standards for the exploration and exploitation of offshore oil and gas in the Convention area. This would complement Sierra Leone's domestic efforts.
Sierra Leone has some of the most physically attractive coastlines in West Africa. Oil spills would ruin this ecological asset and its tourism potential.
The State of the Marine Environment Report is undertaken within the framework of the Abidjan Convention, a regional seas programme of the United Nations Environment Programme. The Convention, to which Sierra Leone is a signatory, provides an overarching legal framework for all marine-related programmes from Mauritania to South Africa.
"The successfull implementation of our project in Sierra Leone is the sign that, regardless the Ebola challenges, the country is committed to the Abidjan Convention,” Abou Bamba, Abidjan Convention regional coordinator, said Monday.
"We will continue to support Sierra Leone in the years to come and assist in unlocking the economic potential of its coastline," he added.
Much of West and Central Africa's coastline is under severe environmental pressure due to the growing number of human settlements. Sierra Leone's director of fisheries and marine resources, Mohamed Cole, told the 36 workshop participants that coastal communities around the world relied on varied marine and resources such as water, minerals, oil and gas, sand and gravel, fishing and maritime transport, mariculture and mangroves for their living. Additionally, there was often indiscriminate development of coastal land for tourism and leisure. He said at least 600,000 of Sierra Leone's estimated 6 million people depended directly and indirectly on living and non-living marine resources. These people, too, are adding pressure on resources. Waste generated due to socioeconomic activities on land and offshore remains a significant threat to the quality of the marine environment. Already, Cole said, there were signs of overexploitation of fisheries, mangroves and other resources. The effects of climate change and the subsequent rise in sea level were evident in Sierra Leone.
“[If] these trends continue unchecked, we will witness the collapse or depletion of such resources and the offset of ecological balance,” he added.
While environment health was also due to natural events; he said, “We should concern ourselves mostly with the man-made events, as these are the events we can prevent or control.”
Therefore, he added, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources had taken steps to mitigate these threats. They include regulation of fishing; reduction of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; the establishment of four marine protected areas; involving people to take part in sustainable management of resources on which they depend.
Sierra Leone was one of six countries initially chosen for assessment of the state of its marine environment. These assessments will allow nations to apply effective management of their coastal areas. The effort is being funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, through the through the Abidjan Convention Secretariat. Grid-Arendal, a Norwegian foundation that collaborates with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Abidjan Convention, developed a standard online reporting system on the state of the marine environment.
The Oil Spill Sensitivity Mapping is a planning tool with which to curb ecological losses due to oil spills. This report was compiled with the financial and technical aid from the United Nations Development Programme, the Regional Partnership for Coastal and Marine Conservation In West Africa, and Wetlands International.