Where have all the beaches gone?Paris - When some of the 27 million international tourists visiting Africa go to relax by the ocean this summer, they could find the beach is no longer there.
The coastline is receding at 1-2 metres per year in parts of Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia and other African countries.
The seafront of Grand-Bassam, the colonial capital of Côte d'Ivoire, is in danger of crumbling into the water. Meanwhile, sections of the Nigerian coastline are disappearing at an astonishing 20-30m a year. Coastal degradation is a problem world-wide, but 11 African countries (Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania) have now teamed up to do something about it.
Eleven hard-hitting national reports just published as part of Africa's contribution to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, that kicks off in Johannesburg on August 26. The reports wind up the fact-finding phase of a project, implemented by UNESCO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), that germinated back in 1998 in Maputo (Mozambique), when environment ministers from over 40 African countries met to address the problem of coastal deterioration.
Ministers from the 11 countries that took up the challenge will now be using the Johannesburg meeting to attract extra backers for a new phase of action-research, while inviting other African states to come on board. The project has also just been taken under the umbrella of NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development), the initiative put together by African leaders and endorsed by the G8 at their June meeting in Canada.
Africa's 63,124 km of coastline is crucial to the economies of many of its states, especially through fishing and tourism. And some island states, like Seychelles and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, are almost entirely dependent on their coastal resources for income. For a total area of 455 square kilometres, the Seychelles has 491 km of coastline, with the entire population effectively living on the coast. A boom in tourism has brought rapid growth to the economy. The number of visitors swelled from 54,490 in 1971 to 130,046 in 2000, while GDP per capita rose from US$3,600 in 1975 to US$7,192 in 1998. The new prosperity, though, has put pressure on the very coastal ecosystems that created it.
The Seychelles is an archipelago of 72 low-lying coral islands and 43 mountainous granite islands. But 90% of its 80,410 population live on just one of these islands, Mahe. With that island's rocky interior unsuitable for development, the limited coastal zone attracts most of the construction, whether for homes, hotels or new roads. And this often has negative effects on coastal ecology. "Tourism," says the Seychelles report, "is a primary cause of coastal erosion, mainly arising from attempts to cosmetically improve the beach and swimming areas, as well as the provision of marine facilities such as marinas and piers." And, while the government has passed a wide range of laws to protect the environment, says the report, "enforcement is often a major problem."
The Gambia report tells a similar tale. "The beach fronts of most of the hotels have been washed away," while some of those that are left have invested over US$300,000 protection measures. Coastal erosion, says the report is "one of the most devastating in protection measures. Coastal erosion, says the report is "one of the most devastating in environmental problems" facing the country. Some 45% of the population and 60% of jobs are in the coastal zone, not to mention wildlife, including rare species such as the green turtle which use the receding beaches as a nesting grounds.
Coastal erosion is part of a natural process. Sandy beaches are naturally changing. When waves hit the beach at a certain angle, they drag the grains from one spot and deposit them further along, causing the beach to "migrate" sideways. Under normal conditions silt from rivers replenishes them. But any construction on the seafront, such as piers, marinas, landfill and buildings, interferes with this process. In Nigeria's Barrier Lagoon, moles (walls of the artificial harbour) stop the silt from replenishing the beaches. The lagoon's popular Victoria Island beach, for example, at the entrance to Lagos harbour, is now eroding at a rate of 20-30m a year. Meanwhile the silt is building up outside the harbour.
These man-made causes, compounded by upstream damming of the Niger River and sand-mining, add to the vulnerability of the Lagos coast, which is already battered by strong tides and waves. If sea-level does rise by 0.5m to 1m with global warming by the end of the century, as predicted by the International Panel on Climate Change, the barrier lagoon area of Lagos State alone would lose 284-584 square kilometres of its coastline through erosion and flooding. This could cause an estimated US$12 billion loss of revenue from tourism, commerce and spending by residents in one district alone. Some low-lying settlements are already flooded regularly when storms coincide with high spring tides.
Meanwhile, uncontrolled sprawl of Africa's growing coastal mega-cities means that untreated sewage often ends up in the sea. Lagos has no central sewage treatment facilities, so waste from septic tanks is transported by truck to the coast and emptied directly into the sea. Much the same happens in other African cities, according to the reports.
Yet property development, landfill and pollution are not the only causes of coastal degradation. In many places coral reefs and mangrove forest, which provide a natural protection to the coasts, are being damaged or cleared. This exposes beaches to waves and wind. In the relatively well-preserved Seychelles, the main threat to coral is bleaching, as a result of increased sea temperature through global warming. Even a 1°C increase in temperature can kill the tiny, pigmented organisms that live in symbiosis with the coral-building polyps. And their death ultimately kills the coral host that depends on them for nutrients synthesized by sunlight. In the granite islands of the Seychelles, according to that country's report, a 1997-98 survey showed that only 10% of live coral remained in some areas.
In Tanzania, on the Indian Ocean, the coral is also threatened, but mostly as a result of direct human activities. Coral reefs are home to hundreds of fish species, which traditionally provide the main source of protein for local villagers. A combination of pressures has pushed the villagers to fish beyond their own subsistence needs - and to use destructive techniques, like dynamiting and poison, to boost their catch. In one two-month period in 1996, says the Tanzanian report, 441 dynamite blasts were recorded in one bay, while, "in the Songo Songo Archipelago, 30 blasts were heard every three hours and, at Mpovi reef, 100 blasts were recorded during one six-hour period." And, the report goes on, "besides breaking the reef structure into rubble, each dynamite blast also kills all fish, plankton and most invertebrates within a 15-20m radius." Uncontrolled bottom trawling by foreign commercial fishing vessels also destroys the reef, effectively scouring the seabed. And relatively poor countries like Tanzania do not have the resources to police their offshore resources.
The present project, called the "African process for the development and protection of the marine and coastal environment in sub-Saharan Africa", is part of a series of actions on coastal management in African states that started in 1998 at the Pan-African Conference on Sustainable Integrated Coastal Management (PACSICOM). Essentially an African project implemented with support from UN agencies, all the national reports were researched and written by African experts from ministries, NGOs, and universities. Each fact-finding team comprised expertise from three main disciplines - natural science, law, and socio-economics - in an effort to represent the different stakeholders involved in coastal management.
None of the reports envisages a quick fix to these coastal problems. And, as Patricio Bernal, Executive Secretary of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), says, the project recognizes the complexity of the issues. "The pressure to attract investment for coastal tourist facilities, that bring much-needed new jobs and revenue to developing countries, for example, often ends up with projects that do not meet minimum standards of coastal protection. Dramatic cases can be seen all round the world, where huge tourist complexes, built immediately adjacent to the beaches, are surrounded after a few years by pebbles and rocks, as tourist run away from waves crashing on their hotel doorstep. This is frustrating, since the scientific and technical knowledge to prevent it are available and good practices have been clearly defined."
The "African Process" project is an effort to apply this knowledge where it is most needed. So far, the project has been partly sponsored by the UN Development Programme's Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the UN Environment Program (UNEP), the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea (ACOPS), and UNEP's Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Pollution (GPA). But other backers are expected to provide funding at Johannesburg for a new phase that will be looking for solutions.
The very structure of the "African Process" project looks for synergy between coastal states, setting up continental and sub-regional responses to shared problems. At present national responses vary from legislation - with the inherent problems of enforcement - to public awareness campaigns, eco-tourism, monitoring programmes, marine parks and public-private partnerships to finance utilities, like sewage treatment. Tanzania, for example, plans to assist fishermen to buy the gear and vessels required to move from inshore fishing to offshore fishing and to close coral reefs on a rotating basis. "And, like others, the Tanzanian report recognizes that, while marine parks and conservation areas are helpful, sustainable economic activities also need to be developed.
UNESCO's Coastal Regions and Small Islands platform for intersectoral action has a lively and informative internet forum that links stakeholders all over the world and also regularly publishes informative booklets for coastal communities and decision-makers including a book on 'Coping with Beach Erosion' by Gillian Cambers.
Some facts and figures on coasts and tourism in Africa :
Sub-Saharan Africa has an estimated 63,124-km of coastline. This new estimate, based on the 1:250,000 scale World Vector Shoreline, is nearly twice that of previous estimates based on less consistent information, that gave figures around 34,000 km (see World Resources 2000-2001).
Almost 40% of the world's population live within 100 km of a coastline (UNEP).
95% of the world's marine fish harvest is caught or reared in coastal waters (World Resources 2000-2001).
A billion people mainly in developing countries depend on fish for their primary source of protein.
Globally 58% of world's coral reefs are at risk from human activities.
International tourist arrivals to Africa increased by 3.4% between 1999 and 2000, to 27.2 million (World Tourism Organization).
In 2000, Africa as a whole earned $11.7 billion from tourism. Even so, Africa only greets 4% of the 692.7 million international tourists world wide (and nets 2.5% of receipts). And over 35% of these go to North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria).
The average tourist arriving in Africa spends $420, compared to twice that figure in South Asia.
WTO predicts an average 5.5% annual increase in international arrivals to Africa over the next two decades.
Tourism is the world's largest export earner, generating nearly $462 billion a year (2001 WTO).
Contact: Peter Coles, UNESCO Bureau of Public Information,
Tel: (+33) (0)1 45 68 17 10
The reports and related documents are available on a CD-ROM on request.