AFRICA’S seas and oceans - three times the size of its landmass - can be a major contributor to the continent’s transformation and growth.
In 2011 the value added of the fisheries sector as a whole was estimated at more than $24 billion, 1.26% of the GDP of all African countries. The highest value attributed to the marine artisanal fisheries (0.43%) and marine industrial fisheries (0.36%). In the West African region alone fisheries generate some $400 million annually, representing the single most important source of foreign exchange for the region.
Yet, despite the huge capacity to accelerate the development of African economies through maritime industries - such as fishing, shipping and resource extraction - they lack a considerable amount of protection and as the continent continues to grow so will the threats to them.
These threats come in many forms.
Africa’s oceans, like those across the globe, have been the intentional dumping ground for all sorts of waste including sewage, industrial run-off and chemicals. With advances in fishing equipment, larger ships and new tracking technologies, many fish stocks in these waters can be tapped and reduced more significantly. And that’s not even touching on illegal fishing issues - West Africa alone could be losing $1.3b annually to illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing activities.
So just how much of Africa’s “Blue Economy” is being protected?
According to the conservation organisation, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), only about 4% of the world’s oceans are protected, with the vast majority of existing marine parks and reserves either poorly managed, or not looked after at all.
These low figures are reflected are on the African continent too.
Using data from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, this table to shows just what percentage of each African country’s territorial seas is protected.
The lack of protection is clearly visible. 39 African countries had less than 1%, or no, territorial sea protection.
How to protect
Marine protected areas can offer varying degrees of protection from the impact of human activities, and can serve as a genetic reservoir for restocking much larger surrounding areas where fish and other marine life have become depleted.
In addition to these protected areas, large areas of the world’s oceans are also subject to some form of resource management based on international fishing agreements, or based on national laws and regulations within offshore exclusive economic zones (EEZs) now claimed by most countries. Though, in most cases, the management of this consists of little more than simply limiting the fishing access rights of foreigners
There has been local and continental recognition and action towards protecting and growing this economy. The AU for example declared that 2015-2025 be Africa’s “Decade of Seas and Oceans”, with 25 July declared as Africa’s Day of the Seas and Oceans.
In other cases the push for protection is at the local level with some countries recognising their tourism and fishery potential. The island states of Mauritius and the Seychelles are implementing their own blue economic policies. The Seychelles National Development Strategy, for instance, was adopted in November 2015 with the concept of the “Blue Economy” as its centrepiece.
Recently, South Africa announced plans for a major expansion of “national parks in the sea”, by creating a new 70,000km2 network of marine protected areas. If these plans go ahead it would mean that protected areas would be permanently out of reach of ecologically damaging ventures, such as oil and gas exploration.
But an assessment of South Africa’s existing marine protected areas in 2014 showed that budgets were decreasing year on year and that enforcement continues to be a major challenge in most of them.
This is going to be a continuous battle for many African nations since substantial amounts of money are required to manage and protect MPAs and EEZs, and to implement and enforce international agreements on fisheries, shipping, and migratory species. A recent survey of over 80 MPAs found that a global MPA network covering 30% of the world’s seas might cost between $7 billion and $19 billion annually to run!
If African nations will want to take full advantage of their blue economy this will only be able to happen if they’re able to get to grips with financing and managing it in a sustainable fashion.