Our Maritime Potentials are under exploited- Adegbie, Director, NIOMR
TNMN’s team, Ezinne Azunna and Chinyere Okoye recently spoke with Dr. Adesina Adegbie, a Director and Head of Marine Geology Geophysics at the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), in Lagos, Nigeria.
Dr. Adegbie also serves as a Commissioner with United Nations Legal and Technical Commission of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) , Kingston, Jamaica.
He shared his thoughts on Marine Research in Nigeria, Dead Coral Reefs found on Lagos waters, Seabed Resources and Exploration opportunities, Ocean Energy, the need to develop manpower that meet marine needs, plastics in fish etc. It is quite revealing. Read on!
About the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research
The source of life is in the ocean, and that the ocean covers more than 175% of the surface of the earth. The interaction of the ocean, land and atmosphere shape our climate. So, the ocean is important to life and without it, we cannot survive. And that’s why our Institute is very central.
Here at Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), we are responsible for all oceanographic research in Nigeria. We are about the largest in West Africa and in Africa; I think we are just next to South Africa.
There are various aspects of oceanography and we have broken them into various departments. There’s the department of Marine Geology Geophysics, Physical and Chemical Oceanography, Biological Oceanography, Fisheries Resources, Fishing Technology, Biotechnology, Aquaculture and Mariculture.
We have done so much in terms of training, research, identifying fish species that are prolific, Mariculture and shrimp culture. We are working on how to culture shrimps in the laboratory for domestic and international consumption. We have gone to the extent of acquiring a place in Yovoyan, near Badagry for a Mariculture project where sea water will be used to breed shrimps.
Fishing gears are also designed and built here. We have a very big laboratory which was donated to us by the Japanese government. It’s the only one in West Africa. We have also demonstration laboratory where you can test your net and see if it is performing well in water. Our fishing nets have the turtle exclusive device. Without that device, nobody buys your shrimps at the International market.
Adegbie, Director at NIOMR & Commissioner with International Seabed Authority
We also study the biological response of organisms to different environments, how they can be manipulated to sustain marine life, how some of them biofoul the environment and cause problems.
NIOMR is involved in Marine Biology. We do surveys that identify the type of fish we have, the abundance of such fish, their ecology, and the rate of growth. We identify nursery grounds and study mangrove areas. It’s very broad. We also study microorganisms that are dangerous to species of fish, the way they multiply and the cause of their growth in the sea. We look at physicochemical parameters like the temperature, salinity, gravity, ocean acidity, oxygen/carbon dioxide in the sea.
I head Marine Geology Geophysics and we are responsible for looking at the geology and physical characteristics of our territorial waters and the sea beyond which includes the bathymetry, the depth, the current, and beach erosion. We also monitor sea level rise using tide gauges. We have data to show that in this part of the world, the sea is actually rising. We also show what rate it is rising at and look at the sediments in the ocean whether surface or core sediments.
Dead Coral Reefs in Lagos Waters
Our marine environment was not like this 500, 000, 000 years ago. It has been disturbed by human activities especially near the shore. In the past, we had living corals reefs offshore Lagos. They were in Lagos waters in the Holocene, which is about 100,000 years ago but they died.
Recently, dead coral reefs were found shooting out of the water in offshore Lagos towards Ondo State coastline and fishermen need to be careful not to trawl there because they will lose their nets if they do.
Dead corals reefs are as strong as rocks. They are hard solid carbonates. If you pick up a coral, you will need special equipment to work on it.
Their death was caused by coastal erosion, siltation and particles that blocked their organs. Coral reefs only survive in clean waters. You know that anytime you go to the beach; sand is lost. And if it’s an area where the tidal water touches, it also takes sand away.
The British in 1912 constructed the groins so as to prevent siltation of channels into Lagos sea ports. That’s the East and West Mole. They protect the channel (into Commodore channel, into the sea port) from sand coming all the way from Côte d’Ivoire and other rivers into the ocean. The West Mole blocks the sand but here in Lagos, it causes a lot of erosion because there is no sand balance along the coast. When the wave is strong, it picks up sand. It is this sand that goes offshore to silt up coral reefs and in that process they die.
Any activity in the ocean has an impact on marine organisms. There’s nothing you take from or to the ocean that does not have an impact. Government has to always consider the level of the impact of activities on the sea. Those activities should be controlled so that whatever is taken from the ocean is sustainable. We are currently taking hydrocarbon from the Niger Delta; we should know the environmental impact too.
Nigeria is a member of the International Seabed Authority. I’m also a Commissioner there and I can tell you that there are many resources just lying down there at the seabed unharnessed. We have an idea of what those resources are because of exploration done by some countries in the past.
The Seabed beyond 200 nautical miles or the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of any country is governed by the Law of the Sea, and the International Seabed Association administers and controls the resources found on the surface and under the seabed beyond national jurisdictions. That area is called the Common Heritage of Mankind. The International Seabed Authority regulates activities in the Common Heritage of Mankind.
The mineral resources that have been discovered in the seabed include Polymetallic Manganese Nodules, Polymetallic Sulphide, and Ferromanganese Crusts.
Polymetallic Manganese Nodules is a collection of iron manganese resulting from all activities from the land found in the sea and from some minerals from rocks. They come together and form the nodules on the seabed. Manganese is used in making insulators, medicine, fertilizers etc. It also contains iron, zinc and sulphide.
polymetallic maganese nodules
The Polymetallic Sulphide is found in the Mid Oceanic Ridges. Almost all oceans have the Mid Oceanic Ridges and there is one near us here in Nigeria; the South Atlantic Mid Oceanic Ridge. It has a lot of Sulphides which are very rich in gold, silver and diamonds. They are high quality metals while the Ferromanganese Crusts are highly mineralized crusts.
The challenge is that they are deep in the sea, so we need the technology to bring them out. Only State parties to the Law of the Sea convention are qualified to bid for exploration. States that do not have the finance are allowed to team up with companies established for Marine Exploration. All they need do is apply and get there license through the International Sea bed Authority. License can only be given to the State on behalf of the company. The contractors are usually supervised and are allowed to explore for 15 years after which they are granted permission to mine and bring the minerals to the surface.
The period of exploration helps contractors to discover the minerals, quantify it, know if it is profitable, and to assess what impact the mining activity will have on the environment. They need to ensure that their activities will not destroy the ecology of the area, and wipe out living organisms. Safety is important because although those activities go beyond the 200 nautical miles, if care is not taken, it can, in the future, impact on the neighbouring countries. The contractors usually submit a report on their activities every year.
Right now, there are over 15 contractors already exploring. China has three licenses. Japan has three licenses too. UK, France, Singapore, Brazil, India, and developing nations like Kiribati Island, Tonga and many more are already exploring.
Nigeria’s Manpower Capacity for Seabed Mining
To some extent, we have expertise in the area of research but we need marine biologists that will talk about the impact of the mining activities on fisheries and other marine resources. We have marine scientists like Geophysicists, Geologists that can do exploratory work looking at the current, depth and all other physical parameters.
We are also lacking in the area of engineering. You hear of marine engineers but look at our shore lines, if you want to construct erosion barriers and anything in the marine area; it is either Julius Berger or other foreign companies. We do not have indigenous marine engineering companies. This is because it is very capital intensive. If you put a vessel on the sea just for five days, you will spend more than 10million naira. Our vessel here can take four trailer loads of diesel so you can imagine. It can even go on exploration but we will need high tech equipment.
Dr. Adegbie at work
There’s need to establish a University that can offer degree courses in Oceanography because all we do now in this country is Land Geology. It is only when you come here that you can think of Marine Geology. There is no institution that produces graduates in Physical Oceanography. No institution can boast of Chemical Oceanography! They have to go to sea to do all those things but they don’t have vessels. They don’t even have boats for their lagoon studies. Very few own vessels, many of them hire from fishermen.
We need to know what’s happening in our marine environment. When we do, we can control it, monitor fishing and determine the price. There are fishes that are special to us like tuna. Tuna is here but nobody is catching them.
Education is important if we want to develop manpower and grow the sector. I studied in Germany for my PhD. When you go out, you discover that the equipment we use here is nothing when compared with what you find there. Something has to be done! We don’t need to say we are catching up with them. We just need to consciously grow the sector. We must do something now.
Our maritime potentials are under exploited. Indians come into our waters and illegally cart away our resources.
Marine Research and Development
We need Research and Development. They go hand in hand. Unfortunately, in our own part of the world, research is little. When you see people clearing the bush, they think it is development but a lot of harm is being done to our environment. Nobody considers that. They say they are building housing estates but what about the quality of oxygen we have? These plants absorb the carbon dioxide we generate. Then, we are told our life span is 47 years. That’s the quality of our environment!
It is important that Nigeria pays attention to Marine Research. We are even running behind because a lot of activities are happening there.
Nigeria has concentrated on non-renewable resources. The world today is moving into renewable resources. That includes wind energy, tidal energy, Ocean energy or Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) where you use ocean salinity to generate electricity and it’s clean! You can use temperature difference to generate electricity, and it is renewable. They are important for the future but unfortunately, Nigeria is not in any of them. They are renewable, pollution free and sustainable. We should be reaching out to such areas.
We also need reserved areas in the marine sector to cushion the effect of development in the marine sector. That’s what Maritime Special Planning (MSP) is about. You don’t just say it is a big ocean and then do whatever you like. With Maritime Special Planning in place, you can decide to reserve an area for fishing nothing else. Even vessels will not be allowed to go through those reserved areas. They have to be routed through some other place.
We need to create dumping sites for waste generated in the marine sector. NIOMR has collaborated with NIMASA because they are fully in charge of the administration of our maritime area. They make sure that ship wrecks are removed. There’s a dumping site offshore Lagos and NIMASA is in charge. Maritime Special Planning is basically their duty.
Right now, Dangote is dredging around Lekki for their petrochemical plant. They asked NIMASA where they can dump their waste, and when we were contacted, we assisted in identifying available dump sites. You can’t just dump waste anywhere.
Ocean Energy in Nigeria
The technology is part of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It has to do with Ocean Energy Systems where we use temperature gradings to generate electricity, ammonia for fertilizers, salt for the whole nation and for export and even to fetch water.
Although it’s very expensive…capital intensive, once you get it in place, it is sustainable. But because we still have untapped hydrocarbons, when we hear the cost of this renewable energy, we are reluctant to pursue it.
Our Institute is collaborating with a company which brought the idea to Nigeria. We are still at the preliminary stage and we hope that it will sail through. Because of the cost, the former Minister wanted different ministries to partner on the project.
Why Inland Rivers Dry Up
If a river is dammed extensively …for several years, the channel becomes thinner and thinner until the river is no more. Rivers can be dammed for electricity, agriculture etc. When you dam, you control the flow of the river and let it accumulate. It is then channeled for agricultural purposes or used for power generation. The river however keeps getting smaller until it is no more. And of course, all marine organisms in it die as the water dries up.
Lake Chad is also affected by damming. The reduction in rainfall has also contributed because it’s a fresh water lake sourcing its water from rivers around and rainfall. Over the years, there has also been desertification which means that there is less annual rainfall. We can have isolated flooding in those areas but on the average, there’s less rain fall everywhere. You know when they say a child has kwashiokor; it didn’t begin in one day. For years, the child has not been well fed. That’s the case of Lake Chad where there are many dams from all the countries that it cuts through. And the truth is that once you dam a lake, you reduce the supply of water to that lake and after a while, it shrinks.
Also, some people sand fill parts of a river and build structures there. When you reclaim any part of the river, the river itself becomes smaller. Some eventually dry up.
Plastics in Fish
plastics in fish
Fishes are eating plastics and it is a serious matter. It is also very disgraceful. I was in Sweden sometime ago and at the meeting someone boasted that one could scoop and drink there coastal waters. He said they had very little tide and so at shore their water is fresh and clean. And really, it is very very clean. Everything there is monitored! Basically, it is the culture.
We were one of the first set of people that caught fishes that ate plastics before it was exported. Government should be very proactive. It is only in Nigeria that people die and we will not know the cause of death. Nobody cares. If someone dies overseas, they do a post mortem and identify the cause. If we adopt that, we will find a sequence. We will be able to isolate whatever is killing people in the Niger Delta from that killing people in other hinterlands. That way, we will know exactly what is happening.
These plastics are a serious concern because we eat these animals. And although people may not die instantly because our body is designed to keep out those wastes especially when they are not in large quantity, they die gradually.
Government especially coastal State governments who get a lot of money from oil derivation should set goals of cleaning up their coastlines. Lagos to Calabar coastline is about 853 kilometers and there are a lot of human activities there. We really need to be very proactive and to control activities on our coastal lines.
Posted on : September 9, 2015