Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head of Sustainability, Access Bank Plc

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  • Sustainable Development

Towards a safe marine ecosystem and blue economy 18 Aug 2022

“No water, no life. No blue, no green,” is a quote by Sylvia Earle that reminds us that the ocean is a life force. Beyond being a natural wonder of creation, the ocean is a reliable outlet of food for over three billion people. Additionally, it contributes about $1.5 trillion to the global economy annually, while being a helpful source of heat and carbon absorption.

It should, however, be noted that across the globe, the ocean faces the threat of pollution from a complex mixture of plastic, chemical, and petroleum wastes, agricultural practices, biological threats like harmful algal blooms, and much more. Of these pollution types, plastic waste is the most significant cause of ocean degradation. Indiscriminate plastic disposal in the ocean makes up an estimated 80 per cent of water pollution, with about 10 million metric tons of plastic waste estimated to enter the oceans each year. The plastic wastes and particles are broken down into smaller pieces that absorb and discharge different chemicals, which are ingested by fishes and other sea animals.

This indiscriminate pollution of the ocean, in turn, leads to the contamination of seafood which is one of the world's most reliable food sources.

Highly regarded for its abundance of high-quality proteins, seafood consumption is very healthy. Over the past 50 years, annual global consumption of seafood products per capita has more than doubled. In 2020, the average annual per capita consumption of seafood worldwide was nearly 20kg per capita, according to Statista. Fish provides at least 3 billion people with almost 20 per cent of their average per capita intake of animal protein.

Other benefits of the ocean to human existence are as significant. The ocean provides millions their livelihoods and jobs, which helps to stimulate the ‘blue’ economy. Further to this, the ocean is an essential means of transportation, with at least 90 per cent of global trade carried by sea. Crucially, there has been verified research on the ocean's function as a habitat for ingredients useful for developing critical medications, with over 10,000 compounds already extracted to serve the purpose of biomedical research, treatments, and diagnostic testing.

It is worth noting that to combat the uncontrolled global pollution of the ocean, the United Nations has emphatically tasked all member nations through its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) towards 2030 to protect and preserve healthy marine ecosystems. In Goal 13 of the 17 SDGs, the UN charges the world to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources."

The UN further explains, "Our oceans — their temperature, circulation, chemistry, and ecosystems — play a fundamental role in making Earth habitable. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea. Throughout history, oceans and seas have been vital conduits for trade and transportation. Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future."

For Africa, the charge by the UN is timely. On the continent, which can benefit greatly from the impact of the ocean on food security and economic development, the existence of plastic debris and contamination of the ocean is alarmingly prominent. Five African countries – Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, and Morocco – were listed among the top 20 highest contributors to plastic marine debris in the world in 2015, as the continent continues to rank among the biggest plastic consumers around the globe. It is also estimated that by 2025, the annual mismanaged plastic waste in Africa could be as high as 11.5 million tonnes, with consumer waste on the continent forming 93 per cent of plastic marine debris globally.

This environmental situation calls for urgent actions from governments, individuals, and public and private stakeholders. In Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, the Federal Government recently launched an action plan to tackle the challenge of marine litter and plastics to ensure cleaner seas and ocean for healthy living and protection of the ecosystem.

Understanding the need for urgency in protecting the health of our oceans, former Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Director-General, Dakuku Peterside, called for concerted effort and necessary collaborations to tackle the menace immediately. He emphasized the need for action plans that would trigger the needed behavioural change in the country as well as enable the development of new initiatives to tackle marine litter and plastics.

Interestingly, some organizations in the country are already yielding to the global calls, stepping into the position, and taking responsibility for improving and arresting the situation.

Access Bank, for instance, has committed itself to strategic environmental sustainability measures over the years. In the financial sector, the banking institution has led the way in ensuring effective waste recycling and has expanded its waste recycling activities to 75 locations, with more locations set to be added. This recycling of waste that would otherwise find their way to the ocean has consequently attracted praise for the bank by the propagators of pristine marine ecosystems and environmental health.

More recently, in 2022, Access Bank collaborated with the African Clean-up Initiative (ACI) for a clean-up exercise to mark the 2022 World Ocean Day. At least 65 volunteers defied heavy rain to clean up Alpha Beach in Lagos, one of the country's most notorious beaches in terms of exposure to pollution, and advocate for environmental sustainability. And at the end of the exercise, the shorelines yielded a total of 384kg of solid waste and 60.2 kilograms of recyclable waste. Volunteers at the exercise were also encouraged and appreciated for their efforts and dedication with a Green Certificate.

If Africa will turn around its fortunes to actualize a healthy marine ecosystem, more similar environmental-friendly gestures and initiatives will have to be embarked upon by more stakeholders and organizations like Access Bank with the capacity to encourage citizen action.

By enlightening the public on the impact of human actions on the ocean, encouraging a clean-up of the waters, and investing in waste recycling, Access Bank is showing a clear pathway to ensure the continent ranks highly when the UN evaluates the progress made globally in actualizing its targets eight years from now.

To ensure we preserve our planet, the importance of every individual taking ownership of the problem cannot be overemphasized. Even when a problem seems immense, individual actions can lead to change. Let us constantly be reminded of the words of Robert Swan, OBE: “The greatest danger to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan is Head of Sustainability at Access Bank.