Marine Pollution in the Agulhas & Somali Currents Large Marine Ecosystem

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Deteriorating quality of the coastal waters of the ASCLME region poses a significant threat to public health as well as to the health of its living marine resources and ecosystems – and thus also to the economy to which fisheries revenues, for example, contribute US$943 million annually (ASCLME). The sources of pollution which contribute to this deterioration include both land-based and marine and maritime related activities. Since Land-Based Activities were the focus of the WIOLaB project, the focus of this review was on marine sources which include dumping, shipping, ports, and oil and gas activities. While globally Land-Based Activities are considered to contribute between 80 – 90% of the pollution load to the marine environment, marine sources can make significant contributions to localised and trans-boundary pollution.

The successful management of marine pollution requires an effective legal regime covering national, regional and international levels. Although the majority of ASCLME countries are Party to most of the relevant international conventions – and are all members of the Nairobi Convention - there are a number of gaps and inconsistencies especially in their national legal and institutional frameworks which need to be addressed. For example:

  • There are many cases of overlapping jurisdictions, and a lack of communication across sectors;
  • Failure to domesticate the provisions of international conventions even when they have been ratified;
  • Even where legislation is in place, the implementation is weak due to a lack of adequate financial, technical and human resources;
  • Surveillance activities are split amongst various institutions – this is neither cost-effective nor efficient;
  • Maritime borders between some of the countries have not yet been agreed and with the increasing interest in offshore resources, could lead to conflicts.

There is also a need to introduce and/or strengthen legislation on dredging – especially dredged material disposal – the environmental impacts of offshore oil and gas activities, liability and compensation related to offshore activities, and monitoring and standards.

At the regional level, additional Technical Protocols should be developed under the Nairobi Convention to “operationalise” the relevant articles and promote regional harmonisation in the management of marine pollution. These could include:

  • A Protocol on dredging/dumping; and
  • A Protocol on the management of pollution from offshore activities (this could be broadened to cover all environmental impacts rather than just pollution) and including discharge standards.

These could be supported by the development of a Regional Policy on Marine Pollution and a Regional Code of Practice for Environmental Management in Ports be developed in collaboration with PENAf and PMAESA. Consideration should also be given to the establishment of Special Areas and or Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas under MARPOL in the region.

With respect to international conventions, efforts should be made to promote the ratification of Annexes IV (sewage) and V (garbage) of MARPOL, as well as the Antifouling Convention (2001) and the London Protocol (1996).

From a technical perspective, there is a lack of detailed information available on marine sources in most countries due, at least in part, to the fact that the sources are not being adequately managed either because there is limited or no legislation or there is a lack of technical capacity – or both.

While there is a limited amount of dumping (as defined in the London Convention/Protocol) taking place in the region it is highly likely that ports in all countries undertake dredging on a reasonably regular basis and that many of them are dumping the dredged material at sea. Moreover, although four of the countries are Party to the London Convention/Protocol, most of them do not appear to be implementing it. In addition, there have been persistent reports of illegal dumping of toxic wastes off of the coast of Somalia. These represent a threat to the region as a whole.

There is minimal information on shipping incidents and the associated pollution – although there is information on incidents involving piracy. Information on shipping traffic is outdated, although it can be inferred from the port expansion plans that shipping activity in the region is increasing. Similarly, there is limited or no direct information on pollution in ports for most countries, although it is significant that the majority of the pollution hotspots identified by the WIO-LaB project are in or adjacent to ports. Efforts should be made to improve record-keeping and reporting for shipping and port activities.

Offshore oil and gas activities are expanding in most of the countries in the region and although there do not appear to have been any major pollution incidents to date, the risk of spills is increasing. Moreover, the growing number of platforms in the area increases the potential for conflicts with fisheries interests, not only due to pollution but as a consequence of habitat degradation and physical exclusion from drilling areas and abandoned rigs. At the same time, it is likely that the capacity to manage these activities is limited and since many of the companies involved are international, there may be problems of accountability. Despite the general lack of data, the types of pollutant from marine sources likely to be of particular concern include:

  • Litter from vessels, offshore rigs and port activities;
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons from shipping, port operations and offshore oil and gas activities (including accidental and operational discharges);
  • Tributyltins (TBT’s) and other toxic constituents from anti-fouling coatings on vessels and submerged infrastructure;
  • Heavy metals and other toxic contaminants (eg. pesticide residues) which accumulate in, for example, port sediments and which may then be discharged into other coastal areas after dredging operations;
  • Noise pollution associated with seismic surveys used in oil and gas exploration;
  • Suspended solids, accumulated deposits, antibiotics, heavy metals and other toxic constituents associated with the drilling muds used and/or produced water arising from offshore oil and gas exploitation;
  • Microbiological pollutants and organic matter arising from sewage and garbage discharges from vessels and drilling rigs/platforms, particularly if they are located in shallow water and/or semi-enclosed areas where water circulation is limited.

There is therefore, in addition to the legal and institutional reforms, a need to introduce and/or enhance the management of all marine sources of pollution through:

setting of standards as appropriate;

  • implementing monitoring and assessment programmes;
  • development of environmental management plans (for example, for ports, offshore rigs etc);
  • development of Codes of Practice (for example, for ports);
  • the provision of technical training, particularly for governmental officials.

Much of this can be achieved through collaboration with existing programmes and organisational partners already active in the region. The Office of the London Convention/Protocol and PENAf, for example, have already expressed a strong interest in a number of the proposed activities.

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