The oceans : Importance ? Threats ? What should be priority actions at global and local levels?

On the sidelines of the 9th Regional Partnership Forum for the Conservation of the Coastal and Marine Area in West Africa, convened from 23 to 27 October 2017 in Conakry in Guinea, Mr Jean Louis Sanka gave an interview to Mundus maris on the still undervalued importance of the ocean by the uninitiated and the threats that weigh on its ecosystems. He also gave a sketch of responses to these threats in terms of both global and local actions. In the following, we share this interview.

MM: Good morning Mr. Sanka, Would you like to introduce yourself?

J.L.S.: My name is Jean Louis Sanka. I am the coordinator of the Regional Environment Education Programme, best known under its French acronym PREE. This programme covers all member countries of the PRCM ecoregion: Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Léone.

MM: What connects you to the ocean? Why do you engage with ocean matters?

J.L.S: It's simple. Our lives as humans are linked to water, especially for those of us from the so-called "Rivers of the South" countries which are five: Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Gambia. For us, water is a constant. Everything revolves around water, such as the economy and culture, among others. No elements of identification can exist without water.

This is so important that e.g. the "Mask" in our traditional societies in the case of Guinea Bissau, is a sign of the peoples of the water. This value attributed to water in Guinea Bissau is also found in other communities in our ecoregion. This is certainly the case of Lebous in Senegal.

It is in connection with this vital economic and cultural importance of water and the fact that environmental threats are increasing that we must engage relentlessly. Indeed, threats to water bodies of any nature (the ocean, our mangroves, the rivers and streams for example) is reflected in a challenge to their functions and roles in cultural and economic terms.

One of the illustrations of the socio-cultural impact of ecosystem degradation is that the Balante people are no longer growing rice as they did before. What is more than a disaster when we know that it is an activity that used to be the expression of a specific identity.

MM: Can you tell us about the three most important threats to the ocean? and why is this so?

J.L.S.: Population growth translates into increasing pressure on ecosystems including the ocean. When one adds the urban development with its corollary effects of all kinds of pollution and this in a context of medical progress, the picture becomes more and more gloomy.

In a more specific way for the oceans, the transport of hydrocarbons (oil and gas) and bad fishing practices have also greatly degraded their state of health. In particular, we must not forget the ongoing threats to the mangroves caused largely by the deforestation of this extremely important ecosystem. This is the result of the combined effect of logging and the growing development of monocultures.

Taking into account the contribution of inland waters to the biodiversity of the oceans, this situation is not without serious consequences. Beyond these factors that threaten the oceans and which are to be laid at the doorsteps of humanity, we must add climate change of which a good part of the causes derives from human activities.

MM: What priority actions do you recommend to counteract these threats?

J.L.S.: They can be summed up in the following terms: (i) raising awareness and engaging in advocy for the conservation of biodiversity in order to (ii) mobilise for a profound change in our behaviour and more generally towards our environment. This is where environmental education finds its place. It will be necessary to question many current practices and to propose technologies that are more respectful of the environment.

Jean Louis Sanka as co-chair of a thematic workshop during the PRCM Forum in ConakryThe imperative is to further promote and develop e.g. the technique of "solar salt" to thwart the clearing of mangroves with all its impacts on the environment. We must fight to create buffer zones in these endangered ecosystems as the only way to block the way to monoculture and cutting wood in mangroves.

MM: What could be the role of local action? and of international or global actions and the relationship between the different levels?

J.L.S.: We need to build synergies between the two, because they constitute two inseparable dynamics. While some actions must be local initiatives, so many others must be undertaken at the international, global level. For example, bad farming practices, fishing, etc. must be settled locally, nationally. This is also the case with the buffer zones raised in the preceding comment or the prevention of pollution of certain water bodies, including the oceans. But an issue as important as the sealevel rise can only be resolved within the framework of concerted actions on a global scale, hence the preponderant role of certain bodies such as COP21 (Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 - c.b.t.e.).

MM: What is your greatest wish for the ocean?

J.L.S.: It is summed up in these points: (i) the establishment of a discipline capable of reversing the harmful behaviour that we adopt to the detriment of our environment in general and the ocean in particular; (ii) the more systematic establishment of biological protection zones; (iii) more rigorous and responsible management of waste dumped into the ocean.

Interview by MM.