The capacity of most coastal nations to utilize their coastal and marine assets, while simultaneously protecting them from degradation, is lacking. Although the success of coastal tourism is subject to local security issues as well as global economic pressures, its sustainability depends, above all, on the protection and beneficial management of those assets. The region’s fisheries have scope for restoration and continuing to be major contributors to coastal livelihoods, and the national economy, but only if the pressures leading to overexploitation and pollution can be controlled. Oil and natural gas development and mineral extraction have a potential for increasing the general levels of economic security and human well-being in the short to medium term, but these resources are finite and there is a need to diversify into sustainable ventures.
The overexploitation of fisheries at artisanal and industrial scales using unsustainable fishing methods, and the introduction to coastal ecosystems of invasive alien species from marine sources, are further concerns. Coastal ecosystems, especially estuaries and lagoonal wetlands, are becoming increasingly impacted by activities within river catchment, with deforestation, intensive agriculture, damming and irrigation all changing the nature of material fluxes (water, sediment, nutrients and pesticides). At the global scale, human-induced atmospheric warming has been contributing to a slow but persistent eustatic sealevel rise and significant climatic changes in the region. In the last decade, episodes of unusually high sea temperatures have caused widespread mortality of reef coral.
A summary of the principal issues faced in realizing development opportunities is given in Table 1.
Empowerment and capacity
The will and capacity of countries to manage their coastal and marine resources in ways that promote human wellbeing, for present populations and for future generations, are important issues. Effective governance at community to global levels is a prerequisite for environmental stewardship, while the development and maintenance of that stewardship depends on a sustained commitment to human and technical capacity-building. Such capacitybuilding encompasses scientific data collection and monitoring, the construction of appropriate legal frameworks, and improving capabilities in surveillance and the enforcement of legislation. Capacity-building in monitoring and enforcement at community level offers important opportunities. Community-based or participatory monitoring has been very effective in increasing the manpower available for monitoring (thus cost-effective) and at the same time enhancing environmental awareness and ownership among community members. This has been effective in mangrove and coral reef monitoring in Tanzania.
In order to develop and maintain environmental stewardship, there must be sustained commitment to finance, human and operational capacity-building, as well as to the promotion of public awareness. Capacity-building should include the development of appropriate institutions and legal frameworks, scientific data collection and monitoring, and capabilities in surveillance, as well as the monitoring and enforcement of legislation. There is a clear need for the development of professional, technical and managerial staff in each of the priority areas and activities identified in Table 2.
Collaboration and cooperation
Most coastal countries are signatories to one or more multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) that deals with marine and coastal management issues. These MEAs include the Barcelona Convention, the Jeddah Convention, the Nairobi Convention and the Abidjan Convention, as well as the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) relating to the control of pollution from ships, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). These conventions lay the foundations for coastal states to develop legislation and management plans relating to their coastal and marine environments, integrating the various sectoral policies and, increasingly, taking account of river catchment that discharge to those environments. Under Article 76 of UNCLOS, a state may submit proposals to extend its defined continental shelf beyond the 200-nautical mile limit of its EEZ for the purposes of mineral extraction and harvesting benthic organisms. Some countries have introduced legislation for coastal management.
Recognizing the transnational issues involved in an ecosystem-wide approach to catchment, coastal and marine resource management, national legislation and management plans should place a priority on the coordination of sector interests, with the involvement of all resource users. Policies should reflect the marked increase in environmental degradation over the last 50 years or so, as well as acknowledge the priorities for taking action.
Partnerships with global actors are increasingly important in addressing coastal and marine management issues. Initiatives for improving resource management and related capacity-building are in place through organizations such as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC), the World Bank, The Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA), LOICZ (Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone), WWF – the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), IUCN- the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and UNEP. These initiatives, along with many bilateral agreements, commonly have overlapping objectives and there would be merit in improved coordination and cooperation amongst the various organizations and donors.
Destruction and pollution
Key issues in the management of the coastal zone and offshore waters include the loss of biodiversity and habitats through human-related pressures, the impacts of which have become increasingly acute within the last 50 years or so. Physical destruction and pollution of habitats from land-based and marine sources as a consequence of economic development is rife. For example, the clearance of mangroves for local consumption and export, as well as land clearance for agriculture and fuelwood leading to siltation, threaten marine life.
Competition for space is intense around developing cities, where urban sprawl is making inroads into coastal wetlands and disturbing them through land-filling, pollution and eutrophication. Elsewhere, agriculture is impinging on wetlands, with drainage schemes and pollution from fertilizers and pesticides. Mangrove forests, which provide an invaluable range of ecological services and products, including pollution filtering and coastal defence, are especially vulnerable to development pressure from overharvesting (eg for construction poles) and clearance for agriculture, prawn ponds and salt pans. They are also being stressed by reduced freshwater supply due to damming. Protected area status provides little assurance from the impacts of these competing economic activities. One challenge is how to deal with oil and gas exploration in or adjacent to marine protected areas (MPAs).
Overexploitation of fisheries has two main drivers – at the artisanal scale, poverty and population growth (including the inward migration of fishers) amongst coastal communities (an added difficulty is that many fishers will not easily accept alternative means of livelihood) and, at the industrial scale, commercial incentives and subsidies available to foreign fleets operating under licence, or in some cases illegally, in Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).
Economic and social benefits accruing to western coastal countries, in particular those arising from access agreements with distant water fleets, have generally not been realized (though the case of Namibia is an exception) and few coastal people benefit directly from access fees in terms of direct or indirect employment or in improved standards of living. There will be serious consequences for rural coastal populations if the degradation of fisheries, through overharvesting (inshore and offshore) and the use of damaging methods, continues unchecked. Fishing access agreements in the coastal states are signed by various ministries, each with their own development agenda and no common goal. Although the extent of stocks may be poorly known, countries continue to sign agreements with foreign fleets who may take advantage of the lack of surveillance and fish beyond their agreed quotas.
The fish stocks in most of the LMEs around Africa, as in the rest of the world’s oceans, are overexploited, and where catch tonnages are increasing, as in the Mediterranean, there are reductions in the sizes of fish caught. The resulting by-catch (non-target species) also poses a threat to biodiversity. Effective enforcement of regulations concerning fishing methods, such as the minimum allowable net mesh sizes, is needed if stocks are to attain maturity. Without the recognition by the international community of the precarious state of most of the offshore fisheries, there is a real danger that stocks will collapse. There is an urgent need for international agreement on fisheries regulation, as well as for financial support for monitoring, control and surveillance, and for enforcement of regulation. Most countries do not yet have the management and operational capacity to fully develop their EEZs to their own long-term economic advantage, although those of the Western Indian Ocean have recently come together (with the help of WWF) to set up minimum terms and conditions for fishing access. With this capacity in place, there should be opportunities to restore the fisheries resources to a sustainable level. There is also a great need for capacity-building in the area of negotiations. Data collection and the development of inventories remain a challenge. In the region as a whole, the quality of reported statistics for fisheries, especially for fish catches, numbers of fishers and fishing boats, is varied and in some cases unreliable.
Coastal tourism development has the potential for longterm benefits to coastal communities and national economies, but it also raises important issues of sustainability. For sites of mass tourism, the construction of hotels and transport infrastructure involves habitat loss, while the pressures of tourist numbers – through physical disturbance, high demand for freshwater, pollution and eutrophication – impact adversely on the living resources, especially those of coral reef ecosystems. The short-term aspirations of developers must be appraised in the longer-term contexts of the sustainability of the amenity that has attracted those developers in the first place and of the implications of climate change. In particular, tourism development should aim to avoid the sidelining and alienation of indigenous communities by involving them in ecotourism.
Coastal accretion and erosion
Much of Africa’s coastal zone is vulnerable to physical shoreline change, in some places from accretion, but mostly from erosion. Most of the change is due to, or exacerbated by, human activities. Locally, it is caused by coastal engineering, such as port development interrupting the longshore transport of protective beach sediment. More widely, it is due to the retention (by damming) of river-borne sediments formerly discharged at the coast, as in the case of the Nile delta. Short of dismantling existing dams, there is little that can be done in mitigation other than installing expensive coastal defences. Coastal erosion and the progressive flooding of coastal lowlands are likely to increase, largely as a consequence of the rise in sea level produced by global warming. Apart from catastrophic temporary inundations caused by tsunamis or climate-driven marine surges, physical shoreline change is usually a slow process, and the most cost-effective solutions for threatened communities will be those involving adaptation by planned relocation. The long-term impact of sea-temperature rise (resulting from climate change) on the integrity of the region’s coral reefs is likely to be profound.
Incentives and empowerment for coastal communities to sustainably manage and develop the resources upon which they depend should be considered at the national level. Payments for the use of ecosystem services by developers and harvesters of all sorts may provide a pathway for this. The valuation of ecological services is not simple, but global knowledge in this field is fast developing. “Cap and trade” schemes, similar to those being applied to the production of gases such as carbon dioxide, can be applied to fisheries, for example, with quotas being tradable between countries or smaller stakeholders. With or without such incentives, the promotion of public awareness is important if Africa and its coastal communities are going to benefit from their coastal and marine resources over the long term.
- Alder, J. and Sumaila, U.R., 2004. Western Africa: A fish basket of Europe past and present. Journal of Environment and Development. 13(2), 156-78.
- Alm, A., 2002. Pdf Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Mediterranean: From Concept to Implementation – Towards a Strategy for Capacity Building in METAP Countries. Mediterranean Environmental Technical Assistance Program.
- Crossland, C.J., Kremer, H.H., Lindeboom, H.J., Marshall Crossland, J.I. and Le Tissier,M.D.A., eds. 2005. Coastal Fluxes in the Anthropocene –The Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone Project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. Global Change – the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program Series. Springer, Berlin.
- Francis, J. and Torell, E., 2004. Human dimensions of coastal management in the Western Indian Ocean region. Ocean and Coastal Management. 47 (7-8), 299-307. *Hatziolos, M., Lunden, C.G. and Alm, A., 1996. Africa: A Framework for Integrated Coastal Zone Management. Second edition. The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
- IPCC, 2001. Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report. A Contribution of Working Groups I, II, and III to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds.Watson, R.T. and the Core Writing Team). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Lindeboom, H., 2002. The Coastal Zone:An Ecosystem Under Pressure. In Oceans 2020: Science,Trends and the Challenge of Sustainability (eds. Field, J,G., Hempel, G., and Summerhayes, C.P.), pp. 49-84. Island Press, Washington.
- Pauly, D., Christensen,V., Guénette, S., Pitcher,T.J., Rashid Sumaila, U., Walters, C.J.,Watson, R. and Zeller,D., 2002. Towards sustainability in world fisheries. Nature. 418, 689-95.
- UNEP, 2004. Ocean Islands. Global International Waters Assessment, Regional Assessment 45b. University of Kalmar, Kalmar, Sweden.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2
- UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 2004. UNEP Shelf Programme. United Nation Environment Programme / Global Resource Information Database –Arendal.
- UNEP/MAP/PAP, 1999. Conceptual Framework and Planning Guidelines for Integrated Coastal Area and River Basins Management. United Nations Environment Programme /Mediterranean Action Plan /Priority Actions Programme.
- WCD, 2000. Dams and Development:A New Framework for Decisionmaking, The Report of the World Commission on Dams. Earthscan Publications, London.
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
Previous: Coastal and marine environments in Africa | Table of Contents | Next: Central Africa and coastal and marine environments
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.