Colonialism is beyond the political control and exploitation of one nation by another, it extends to relationship with Nature. The colonisation of Nature sees it being exploited and resources being transformed for economic gain without much regard to socio-ecological impacts. This bent has led to myriad problems including climate change, biodiversity loss and conflict. Terminologies such as Green and Blue economy have been coined as fig leaves to actions that seem good but merely provide cover to negatives activities.
In the School of Ecology held in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, we looked at two key matters, the first being what it would mean to have Marine Protected Areas (MPA). The second issue was connected to the first, and that is the Blue Economy. We considered why the Blue Economy, such a beautiful name, should be a cause for concern. The term and concept of “economy” has become so pervasive that it is taken as a given that aquatic ecosystems are for nothing other than meeting the ends of capital accumulation through the business of exploitation.
Although Blue Economy is conceptualised as the sustainable management of aquatic and marine resources and ecosystems, anything done for other than economic profit or power is seen as unreasonable or as not viable. Our concern is to promote the resilience of our ecosystems and secure them from being grabbed by wielders of power and capital. Some people see the promotion of the Blue Economy as a means of securing life under water as highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals. However, there isn’t much life under water coated by layers of crude oil and contaminated to outlandish levels above safe limits. What life is under water in Bayelsa State for example where the recently released report by the Bayelsa State Oil and Environment Commission reveals that “the concentration of noxious chemicals, such as Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons, exceed safe levels by a factor of 1 million according to some of the samples taken.”
Environmentalism from below requires that we overturn the notion that environmental concerns are for those who have met their basic needs, are sated, and have the pleasure of thinking of luxuries. We also need to demolish the distorted notion that environmentalism begins and ends with the forcing of citizens to evacuate waste from drainages once a month, only to pike them on the edges of the drainages to be washed back, by the rains, into drainage channels. Environmentalism from below requires those who depend on the environment for their basic needs to stand up to reject attempts for the territories to be appropriated for mindless exploitation by the powerful and connected individuals, governments and corporations.
Economy ought to be a third or fourth leg of sustainability, but the other legs, social and environment, have been roundly diminished that the table largely stands on one leg. So it is that the Blue or Green Economy are terms that must be taken with a dose of salt. Blue Economy is conceptualised as the extraction of economic value from aquatic ecosystems through deep seabed mining, modern biotechnology, geoengineering, industrial fishing and a variety of other activities. Some of these activities lead to ocean acidification and compound climate change impacts besides outright pollution. This means that after the extreme exploitation of the land, the sea and the sky are the new targets. Just as lands have been demarcated as mining blocs, the same is overtaking the seas. The wellbeing of 200 million Africans who depend on fisheries for food and nutritional security is clearly at risk.
The implication of the grabbing of our water bodies is that very soon they may be partitioned and claimed as private properties. No doubt once these areas have been claimed, they will become inaccessible to our fisher folks and coastal communities. The partitioning and claiming of aquatic territories may seem far fetched but that is only if we deny that this is happening already. Industrial installations, such as crude oil platforms, command land swathes of territories around them ostensibly as security buffers. Stories from fishers who have tried to move into the high seas in pursuit of their business is that large parts of the continental shelf and beyond are off limits because they have been claimed and literally cordoned off by extractive industries’ installations. Another debilitating factor is that of unregulated industrial fishing in our waters. We have a situation where access to healthy water bodies is becoming more and more difficult by the day due to industrial installations and related pollution. In recent times, we have been witnesses to massive oil spills from blowouts at well heads at Santa Barbara river and at Ororo-1 well; explosion of FSPOs; and the incredibly polluting blowing up of oil laden vessel and burning of bush refineries by the security forces.
With about 90 percent of sea-based pollution, including plastic wastes, in the Gulf of Guinea traceable to the Niger Delta, it is time for our governments (and ECOWAS) to declare an environmental emergency in the region. We need this in order to ensure that our peoples have a safe environment to carry out their economic, socio-cultural, recreational and spiritual activities.
One immediate step that must be taken to ensure that our aquatic commons are not enclosed and grabbed is to have community-managed Marine Protected Areas. Such protected areas could cover rivers, creeks, swamps, and continental shelf. The advantages are numerous and deeply connected to the peoples history and socio-cultural outlook. Such people-managed MPAs would see restoration of degraded areas, rebuild biodiversity, revive cultural practices, restore dignity and reinvigorate local economies. In sum, we aim to work together and figure out ways of liberating Nature, from the bottom up.