Saturday, December 7, 2013
- By all accounts, the marine life of Senegal is in trouble. One only has to consider the volume of toxins dumped each day along the country’s 700 kilometres of coastline.
Each year, tankers which transport 90 million metric tonnes of crude oil pass through the narrow strait which lies between Senegal and the Cape Verde islands. After a shipwreck or oil spill, the petroleum can kill sea creatures and disturb the marine environment and coastal ecosystems.
Senegal’s Economic and Social Council, a state-run body, organised a workshop in the capital Dakar last week (Oct 26) to outline an intervention plan in case of an emergency.
Experts from the Environment and Fisheries Ministries, the International Maritime Organisation and the Indemnity Fund for Damages Due to Petroleum Pollution (FIPOL), who attended the workshop, have embarked on a major plan to revise Senegal’s 1985 intervention plan.
Their mission will be to “identify the players in case of an emergency, identify available resources, evaluate equipment needed to deal with the crisis, and adapt the legal machinery to deal with such situations”, according to a spokesperson at the Ministry for Fisheries and Maritime Transport.
Ideas suggested to protect coastal waters include the creation of a watch-dog group, called the Marine Pollution Centre. If crated, its mission would be to analyse pollution in the laboratory, quantify it, and devise ways to fight it.
Senegal has ratified international conventions governing the use of the sea. “But anybody can ratify a convention, the real trick is to have the wherewithal to implement them. We also have to be able to check boats while they’re in port to see if they meet navigational standards”, says the Ministry for Fisheries and Maritime Transport.
Nonetheless, the Senegalese government has yet to ratify the FIPOL protocols. If there were to be a marine catastrophe today, Senegal would be hard-pressed to claim compensation. According to Yerim Thioub, a key participant at the workshop, the FIPOL accords do not guarantee total indemnisation. “We’re studying the FIPOL protocols, but you have to remember that total compensation is unheard of,” he says.
However, pollution does not come solely from tankers. Chemical plants located near the ocean constitute even more dangerous threats. In addition to the products dumped by boats, the Senegalese seas are threatened by sewage as well.
Each day, sewer lines from Dakar discharge 35,000 cubic metres of untreated waste into the ocean. Whereas factories, most of which are located along the coast, release 4,164 cubic metres of oil and grease, 25.3 cubic metres of nitrogen, 115 cubic metres of phosphates, and 4.6 cubic metres of phenols each month, according to the Senegalese Association for the Protection of Resources and Marine Environment (ASPROM).
The beaches often resemble garbage dumps where the danger of faeces contamination is real. “The ocean is not a garbage can into which you can dump anything you want. It’s going to throw everything you throw into it all back to you in one way or another sooner or later, and its not going to be pretty”, says Calixte Abdoulaye Ndiaye, ASPROM’s president.
Shoreline areas often sponsor beach clean-ups in order to keep them tidy, and to avoid the danger of pollution.
In the end, marine pollution could deliver a fatal blow to coastal tourism and commercial fishing which employs more than 450,000 Senegalese. Approximately 200 billion CFA francs in annual revenues come from this industry, of which 160 billion CFA francs are from exports.
One US Dollars is equal to 600 CfA francs.
ASPROM says chemical analyses of the waters from off the coast have shown toxic substances in some of the samples. Among them are mercury ions, which can cause memory loss. Some species of fish have already disappeared from Senegalese waters because of pollution.