Fishers of the World Unite!

IMG_3917 2Fishers Unite! It is abnormal for a fisher or fishing community to depend on imported fish for protein. It is an unhappy situation when an experienced fisherman returns from a fishing trip with only flotsam or other debris, including plastics, in the nets. Unfortunately, this is the reality facing fishers in much of the Niger Delta and in other regions where extractive businesses have heavily polluted our creeks, rivers and seas.

The case of fishers toiling for hours, even days, and returning home empty handed and hungry due to the destruction of aquatic ecosystems by oil spills, is similar to the sad experience of farmers whose lands have been damaged by these oil spills, waste dumps and mining wastes.

The ecological balance and health of our marine ecosystems have been heavily impacted by unmitigated pollution emanating from oil, gas and mineral exploration and other extraction activities.

Seismic activities disorient or even lead to the death of aquatic lives, including whales. In the heat of oil exploration in the offshore of Ghana, whales died and were washed onshore. In fact, 30 whales died and were washed to the shorelines of Ghana between 2011 and 2017. Although some people dispute the link between the recorded deaths and oil exploration activities, the spike in such incidents since the intensification of oil exploration and exploitation requires clear explanations.

We note that the undisputed causal links to similar experiences have been established by researchers elsewhere. For example, it is a usual experience to find fish, crabs and other aquatic life forms floating in oil coated waters whenever oil spills or oil-related fires breakout in our creeks.

Over 6.5 million Nigerians are engaged in the fishing business. This includes the fishers and the fish processors. When others in the value chain – involved in fish transportation, net fabrication and repair, boat building, outboard engines maintenance and cold storage operation – are considered, it is clear that this is a sector that requires support and protection.

The employment level in the fishing sector clearly trumps that of the oil and gas sector. While the petroleum sector may contribute in higher amounts to the national purse, the fishing sector directly impacts the lives of more individuals, families and communities than the oil sector. Indeed, if fishers are adequately protected and supported with necessary value addition avenues, fish could reasonably be expected to provide a more sustainable source of revenue and foods than the petroleum sector currently does.

We also bear in mind that millions of Nigerians and beyond depend on fish for 35 percent of their protein needs. This reality underscores the critical need to consider the overall health of our citizens in the management of harmful activities in our water bodies. There is over 12.5 million-hectare of inland water in Nigeria and with this the country can produce over 350,000 metric tonnes of fish yearly. Over 80 percent of the fish in our markets are caught by artisanal fishers. With a huge proportion of our population depending on fish for animal protein, this is an area that requires careful ecological and economic attention.

These considerations become even more urgent when we bear in mind that in a few decades, crude oil will be abandoned as an energy resource. When the need for crude oil fades away, as it soon will, our creeks, rivers and seas will not suddenly become clean or healthy again. The pollution that is being currently condoned is an inter-generational crime that requires to be halted and accounted for.

If our fishers should tell tales of what they see, of what their experiences are, in the struggle to make a living and to provide healthy foods for our teeming population, our hearts would be broken.

The questions are: why is the current state of affairs permitted in our waters? Why are our creeks, rivers and seas polluted with impunity and no one is held to account? Why are our fishers left to struggle to no avail with no compensations paid for fishing gears which are destroyed by oil spills, for loss of fishing grounds and for harms from divers factors?

Now is the time to stem the tide of destruction. Now is the time to use our tongue to count our teeth. Now is the time for fishers to unite and stand against pollution. It is time to demand a halt to extraction activities in our waters. It is time for fishers to say that our streams, rivers and seas are not waste dump sites or channels for disposal of toxic effluents. It is time for fishers to unite and loudly remind the world that our best interest is served by fish, not oil.

The FishNet Alliance provides the avenue for fishers to come together and forge a common front to protect our marine ecosystems, livelihoods and to build resilient economies and a sustainable and just future. Is this something we can do? This is our challenge. This is why we must come together, from community to community, from shore to shore and paddle together, united in the good fight for safe waters devoid of deadly pollution.

Let the conversations continue…

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at FishNet Community Dialogue at Mbo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, on 19 June 2018

 

 

 

Lessons from my Father

C92BB6E8-8B89-40B5-9D8C-F870F446CC6FMy father, Nnimmo Bassey, is the greatest man I know. A legit superhero in my eyes. Two days ago, it was his birthday. His 60th. A milestone. This year is a milestone year for me too. Tomorrow, I’ll be half his age.

I don’t know what my earliest memory of my dad is. I just know my initial perception of him was fear. I was scared of my dad in the same way most African kids are scared of their fathers. Dad is usually the disciplinarian, the booming voice, the quick glare that can shut whatever mischief you are up to down. That’s just the honest truth, I was scared of my dad. But being an adult now, and dealing with kids too, I get it. Kids are annoying. And as a young man dealing with young children, these things would happen.

That fear transformed as I grew over the years into deep respect. He became committed to Christ when I was very young, maybe around 5-7. And that marked the bulk of my childhood and teen years. Our lives revolved around 3 places – home, my parents office and the church. Well, there was school too, but that was the bulk of my universe.

I remember the day he came home with a friend, I think it was the late professor Wangboje. I had to draw something to show him, and afterwards, I attended art lessons down the road from our house every Saturday. It was in those lessons, I learned to draw. Funny the moment I learned to draw was instantaneous. I was watching an older kid draw and all of a sudden, my perception shifted, and I understood how to draw in a perception-based way as opposed to a symbol based way. Anyway, I digress.

Watching my father serve at church and become more recognized and called to deeper and higher levels of service was inspiring. There are the pressures of being the child of ministers, but there are also the benefits. Part of that is the air of respectability that is passed on from the parents to the children, and we are blessed to be a part of a loving community. I used to joke that all I needed was to say who my Dad was and feel the energy in the room change.

My dad is an early bird, I take after my mum personally. We can both rise early, but I’m sure given the choice she would rather work to the late hours of the night than wake up at the hours my dad does. I remember the many Sundays he was out the house by 6am to join the beginning of first service at church. The rest of the Bassey Clan would get there at 10-11 for the second service.

My dad is always the one to lead by example and go harder and further than anyone else. I can see him in my mind’s eye now, on the days I woke up and went with him on those early Sundays, standing on the pulpit, sometimes leading the first prayers. I see his selfless service in the outreach to the leper colony in Oshiomo, and his tireless campaigning against environmental degradation by oil companies.

I loved to hear him speak. He is always so articulate and thoughtful in his delivery. My dad is incredibly wise. As a family, we gather in the morning and evening for devotion, we pray together, read scripture and discuss, and those were always powerful times, with guidance and words of wisdom. I remember some of the things he said in those times, such as, ‘you don’t go to school to learn, you go to school to learn how to learn’ and ‘just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it’, a statement I go against a lot lol. But the words echo in my mind often.

One thing I really picked up from him was the love of books. Our house was always filled with books, I was reading novels before I was 10, dabbling in play writing, poetry, and stories. In a way, he’s the reason I blog now. My favorite thing to do as a teen was to raid his stash. I would go to the study and his bookshelves and pick out whatever looked interesting to me and take a stack back to my room and pore over them. He’s always asked me when I was going to write a book, and I would shrug and smile. I always thought I would write when I felt I had something important to say.

Even when I made decisions he didn’t agree with, especially in my early 20s, even when he was disappointed, he allowed me to fail on my own terms. Somehow, he trusted me to figure it out, and do what I loved. Which I think is the biggest thing I learned from him. See my dad is an architect and practiced for about a decade, until his work in human and environmental rights activism pulled him in full time. In watching him do what he does, I built the conviction that it didn’t matter what you did, it mattered more that it mattered to you. You have to do what you love, you have to burn with a sense of mission. It was watching him do him, that has given me the drive to do me. To not merely do something respectable or applaudable, but to do something that matters.

My dad is a humble, simple man. He is kind, he is generous. I see the way people interact with him, I have seen the work he does, and the many ways he tries to help. His heart is pure, and bleeds to see the people around him uplifted, and he will speak truth to power from the dusty roads of Benin City to the hallowed halls of Washington. He is a man of true dignity and integrity, and an immense inspiration to me.

I love you Dad. Happy Birthday.

From Oto’s blog

My note: Happy birthday, Son. You are an awesome guy & you bring me much joy.

In the Belly of the Plastic Whale

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Inside the Plastic Whale

Inside the Belly of the Plastic Whale. It was a surreal feeling for me to literally step into the belly of a whale in December 2017. It was an unforgettable experience, to say the least. One could not but imagine what would have been the fate of biblical Jonah if he had found himself in the belly of a whale like the one I encountered.

My encounter was with a Cuvier’s beaked whale. An adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale can weigh up to 3000 kilogrammes and measure 5-7 metres in length. These whales usually have just two visible teeth at the tip of their short beak. Lacking much in terms of teeth, they feed by suction. They hunt by echolocation and can be injured or confused by noises generated by humans, including noise from seismic exploration for fossil fuel resources.

Encountering them is not easy, so Jonah would probably not have been given a hike by this specie. Why? They live where there is no light, at about 2000 metres way down in the ocean. Plus, they feed on fish, crustaceans and mostly deep-sea squid. This appetite for squid may be one of the key problems that modern man now poses to these deep-sea creatures.

Scientists suspect that the Cuvier’s beaked whales get attracted to floating plastics, mistaking them for squids or ingest them while hunting for other species that may seek hiding places in floating plastics materials. Plastics in the seas are a huge threat to the Cuvier whales and other sea creatures.

Ending a Plastic Civilisation

The World Environment Day 2018 presents a challenge and an instigation. The theme, Beat Plastic Pollution, challenges us to take action and the notion that plastics pollution can be beaten should inspire actions. The World Oceans Day equally urges action against plastic pollution.

Beating plastics pollution is a huge challenge when we consider the perverse culture of current disposable economy. Fifty percent of plastics in use are disposable or single-use type. Globally, we buy one million plastic bottles every minute and use up to 5 trillion plastic bags every year. The least anyone can do is to pause and think before grabbing that plastic bottle of so-called soft drinks. We should learn to refuse plastics and not just aim to reduce, reuse or recycle them. It is time to tackle this menace at source. Packaging is said to account for 40 percent of all plastics in use. It is time to terminate this plastic civilisation.

Tissue papers decompose in 2 to 4 weeks. Cigarettes decompose in 5 years. The plastic cups in which coffee is served at cafes and fast food shops float around for 50 years. Plastic bottles will swirl about for 450 years. And, wait for it, the plastic in baby diapers will equally hang around for 450 years – long after the babies who wore them would have become ancestors.

Sadly, many folks think that the story of their plastic bags or wraps end once they toss them into the trash bin. In a bid to appear hygienic, we cover or wrap foods with plastics – in both restaurants and homes. However, plastics out of sight is not plastics out of life. Tons of these materials end up in the gutters, rivers and the oceans. 15 tons of plastics are said to end up in the ocean every minute with more than 8 million tons being dumped into the oceans every year. An incredible 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals lose their lives to plastic pollution every year

Reports by Ocean Conservancy, suggest that there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050. Already, plastics have been found in over 60 percent of all seabirds and in all sea turtles species that mistake plastic for food. We must beat plastics, for our survival and for the survival of other species. We need fish, not plastics.

Floating on the waves

Plastics from one whale

All these plastics from the belly of one whale

It is interesting when we consider how long it takes for some of the plastics that end up in the oceans to decompose. Tissue papers decompose in 2 to 4 weeks. Cigarettes decompose in 5 years. The plastic cups in which coffee is served at cafes and fast food shops float around for 50 years. Plastic bottles will swirl about for 450 years. And, wait for it, the plastic in baby diapers will equally hang around for 450 years – long after the babies who wore them would have become ancestors. Even the balloons that are used as decorative items – when released to float around for a few minutes or hours, end up taking years to degrade in the oceans and water ways.

The Cuvier whale at Bergen

Unfortunate ending for this Cuvier’s beaked whale

And, so, there was I in the belly of the Plastic Whale Museum, a museum set up at the University of Bergen, Norway, to serve as a poignant reminder of the harm that plastics pose to our oceans and to marine life in particular. This museum hosts displays of the plastics recovered from the belly of the whale that was stranded on the Sotra Island, west of Bergen, on 28th January 2017. The whale had more than 30 plastic bags and a large quantity of microplastics in its belly.

I was in the Plastic Whale Museum at the invitation of Rafto Foundation for Human Rights to discuss plastics, oil pollution and the threats to our communities as well as to marine ecosystems, the plastic backdrop was a haunting reminder of the harm that we are doing to our environment. When we eat fish that feeds on plastics, it is reasonable to say that we are actually eating plastics.

On that day, I ended my talk with a rendition of my poem, We Thought it Was Oil, but It Was Blood. Perhaps I should have changed that to read We Thought it Was Fish, but It Was Plastic. We simply have to beat plastic pollution.

 

 

*This blog was written to mark the World Environment Day and the World Oceans Day 2018