Plastic and other pollution threatens the sea

Namibia’s fishing sector is one of the country’s top foreign currency earners and employers.

01 March 2019 | Fishing

One striking thing about Namibia is the extent to which plastic is still being used, especially in shops and packaging. - Blessing Chiripanhura, Development economist

JANA-MARI SMITH - The alarming multitude of threats posed by climate change, pollution and intense human reliance on the world’s oceans should be a primary focus for Namibia’s fishing sector if the country is serious about maximising the socio-economic benefits and potential profits the sector offers.

Namibia’s fishing sector, comprised of a near-pristine and rich bio-diverse coastal area stretching 1 500 km, is one of the country’s top foreign currency earners and employers.

In addition to commercial and recreational fishing and aquaculture activities, several industries thrive on Namibia’s coastline, among them tourism and mining.

Study

Findings from a recent study, ‘Towards a Blue Economy’, by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), emphasise the need for a united understanding by relevant role players of the pressures facing the marine environment.

“The core issue that needs to be addressed by Namibian policymakers and officials is the idea that significant socio-economic development can be achieved while guaranteeing environmental sustainability.”

This would require a “deeper understanding and improved coordination” among stakeholders on “a host of cross-cutting issues”, including climate change, water and energy security and what the terms “blue economy” and “blue growth” mean for Namibia.

The paper, by IPPR research associate Dietrich Remmert, highlights that while a range of industries depend on the ocean, even less-intrusive industries such as eco-tourism can have negative impacts on ocean and coastal zones.

Impact

In line with the ministry of fisheries and marine resources’ target to implement a blue economy governance and management system by 2020, the paper warns that a “factor that could severely impact negatively on Namibia’s blue growth prospect is the issue of global climate change and its impact on the ocean’s ecosystems”.

While the blue economy, including the fishing sector, plays a significant role in the economy, sub-optimal management and oversight of environmental threats lead to havoc.

“Effects on fish stocks can vary and it is difficult to predict how various species might react to different changes … it is possible that many fish stocks would react adversely to such changes by migrating to other ocean areas and propagating less, for example.”

In addition, as many observers have pointed out over the years, “instances of tension between economic interests and environmental protection resulting in disagreements, conflict and legal action are a regular occurrence”, within and between relevant marine authorities and organisations in Namibia.

The IPPR noted that many interviewees agreed that “unfettered economic activity should not be allowed”, particularly at the cost of the environment and long-term sustainability of the sector.

Another current issue highlighted by the IPPR is the “limited scientific and other relevant environmental and economic data” to guide the development of a blue economy.

Liberal plastic

Other environmental concerns relate to pollution.

Development economist Blessing Chiripanhura recently pointed out “one striking thing about Namibia is the extent to which plastic is still being used, especially in shops and packaging.”

He said the “liberal” use of plastics and the limited capacity of recycling in Namibia pose a threat to the environment, including ocean pollution.

“While plastic pollution may not show up directly in the fish being harvested, it does affect other types of marine life adversely, and in the long-term the whole ecosystem will suffer.”

He is further worried about heavy-metal and oil pollution, which have serious consequences for the sector, pointing out the country needs to “maintain high standards” to guarantee access to international markets.”

Between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic are disposed in the world’s oceans each year and makes up 95% of the rubbish in the oceans, mainly in the form of bags, food and drink containers, and fishing equipment.

Unless addressed, it is estimated that by 2050 the mass of plastics in the oceans will exceed the total mass of fish in the oceans.

Chris Brown of the Namibia Chamber of Environment recently pointed out that Namibia has taken notable steps to address plastic pollution and recycling, primarily through the efforts of the environment and tourism ministry.

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