By Peter Musa

Scientists from Africa have joined hands with those from the rest of the world to intensify research on threats facing oceans and inland waters, whose co-existence supports the Blue economy.

As nations exercise their liberties in mining fortunes within blue economy, marine scientists and conservationists warn that the remaining ocean and marine life is delicate and caution should be taken during their exploitation.

Currently there are 405 documented dead marine zones in the world, covering an area of over 240,000 square kilometers.

However, ocean science research accounts for only between 0.04% and 4% of total development expenditures worldwide, according to the 2017 Global Ocean Science Report released by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO).

The research is a timely build-up towards meeting the first phase of the United Nations (UN) Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030, which according to Dr Vladimir Ryabinin, the Executive Secretary of the IOC-UNESCO, “will generate knowledge to apply in the sustainable management and protection of marine and ocean life environment.”

The research in progress is also a preparation for the 2022 UN conference to support the implementation of sustainable development goal (SDG) 14 scheduled to be co-hosted by Kenya and Portugal in Lisbon.

“In our studies, we are focusing on marine and ocean life sustainability, use of minerals and energy resources including deep sea mining; climate change and the blue economy; sustainable shipping and maritime transport; management of coastlines as well as the governance and security of the blue economy,” says Dr Philip Osano Stockholm Environment Institute(SEI) Africa Director.

Dr Osano says the knowledge is going to be applied in the decision-making processes within its Member States for sustainable management of oceans, other related water bodies and resources, and protection of marine life.

In Africa, the Blue Economy consists of lakes, rivers and a wide ocean resource base that covers about 47,000km of coastline. Out of the 54 African states, 38 are coastal and island states with more than one quarter of Africa’s population living within 100 kilometres of the coast.

A rapid population growth, industrialization and urbanisation are part of the piling pressure on marine resources, posing a threat on Africa’s maritime zones covering about 13 million square kilometres of collaborative ‘Exclusive Economic Zones’ (EEZs) across states, and approximately 6.5 million square kilometres of continental shelf.

The researchers, who together launched a book titled Science, Research and Innovation for Harnessing the Blue Economy, aim towards alleviating these important “towers of economic prosperity” from looming risks posed by pollution, land-use change and biodiversity loss.

The book, which was released in October this year, is a collaborative initiative between Kenya Government and the SEI. A team of professionals drawn from the Science and Research Symposium unit of the 2018 Sustainable Blue Economy Conference (SBEC) hosted by Kenya has been working on the publication.

Dr Osano explains that key challenges facing sustainable use of blue economy in developing countries, especially in small island development states (SIDs) and Africa in general, is the lack of scientific capacity to ensure that social and economic activities are carried within the limit effect on the available resources.

“Since our focus is to bridge science and policy, our work with climate adaptation in coasts and islands will involve informing governments on integrating aspects on roaming risks to marine pollution; coastal resilience and adaptation, governance of the blue economy, and commodity–driven land-use change and biodiversity loss,” he says.

UNESCO-IOC which is driving the study process, targets to promote intergovernmental cooperation to generate knowledge about the nature and resources of the ocean and coastal areas.

Dr Francis Owino, Principal Secretary in charge of the Blue Economy agenda in Kenya, agrees that major capacity disparities exist around the world to undertake scientific research necessary for proper blue economy management and related human activities.

“Our collective success as one people in this planet lies in the ability to build partnerships and strengthen synergies,” he explains.