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Seaweeds – a growing threat to Lagos’ waterways

The spread of the invasive species of fast-growing plant is damaging transport links in Nigeria’s economic capital

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Seaweeds; A growing threat to Lagos waterways
An abandoned boat is overtaken by water hyacinths, an invasive aquatic plant, floating on coastlines in Lagos, May 23, 2019. - Traffic jams on the snarled up roads of Nigeria's megacity of Lagos are legendary, but a growing problem is also clogging up the waterways of Africa's biggest city -- water hyacinths. The spread of the invasive species of fast-growing plant is not only damaging transport links in Nigeria's economic capital, built on a lagoon dotted with islands. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Traffic jams on the snarled up roads of Nigeria’s megacity of Lagos are legendary, but a growing problem is also clogging up the waterways of Africa’s biggest city — water hyacinths.

The spread of the invasive species of fast-growing plant is damaging transport links in Nigeria’s economic capital, built on a lagoon dotted with islands.

With waterways covered and silting up, the aquatic weed is also threatening fishing jobs and a vital food source.

“This is all I can get since morning,” said fisherman Solomon Omoyajowo, showing a handful of fish in a bowl in his wooden canoe.

The 45-year-old fisherman has already been forced to move his nets from one part of the Ogun river too thick with weeds, to a new area nearer the sea.

“Many fishermen have abandoned their boats, while some of us who still want to continue, now try our luck here,” he told AFP, using his palms to wipe a stream of sweat from his face.

“Water hyacinths are killing the fish in the river,” said another nearby fisherman, Adisa, as he cast his net into the river.

When he hauled it up, he had caught only four small fish.

“I don’t think I can do any other job apart from fishing,” Adisa said. “I will continue to manage until the government comes to our aid to clear the weeds.”

Jobs at risk

Originally from South America, the plant has caused chaos across several countries in Africa. Earlier this year, a thick green carpet of the weed choked up Kenya’s main entry to Lake Victoria, the largest body of water in Africa.

It was first noted in Nigeria in the early 1980s, in the Badagry creeks west of Lagos, reportedly spreading from neighbouring Benin.

Since then, mats of weeds have spread to rivers across the country, including Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger delta.

Fishermen say the weed is so thick it creates a dense cover that makes it difficult for fishing boats to navigate the river.

It is having a damaging impact.

One study, from Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University, estimated it put at risk one-third of Nigeria’s local fish supply, a cheap source of food millions rely on.

That threatens to put thousands of fishermen out of a job.

“It has become a menace to the marine ecosystems of Lagos,” said Nkechi Ajayi, spokeswoman from Lagos State Waterways Authority, adding that it impacted “the socio-economic activities” of river communities.

Propeller problems

Water transportation is also at risk. Operators complain of damaged boats and risk of accidents. 

“We often find it difficult to navigate whenever the weeds clog the river,” said boat driver John Ibikunle, as he waited to pick passengers on Lagos Island.

He said many commuters, who once preferred water transport to beat the perennial Lagos traffic gridlock, are returning to the roads, tired of being stuck on water with weeds snagging the propeller.

“They cause mechanical problems to the propulsion system of boats,” added Ajayi, from the waterways authority.

The plant doesn’t grow well in salt water, and environmental experts say the plant expands during the rainy season when the level of fresh water rises in Lagos lagoon.

“It is a seasonal plant,” said Noah Shemede, an environmental activist, from the vast area of wooden homes on stilts built into the water, a fishing settlement called Makoko.

“In the Makoko community for instance, its impact is felt when the rain is heavy and the salt level is lower,” Shemede said.

‘Underwater lawn mower’

Lagos State Waterways Authority chief Abisola Kamson said they have brought in two water hyacinth removal machines to clear the weeds. 

“The machines act like an underwater lawn mower,” Kamson said. “It cuts the vegetation, collecting and storing the weeds and debris on board.”

But while fishermen and boat operators struggle with the weed, one local entrepreneur sees a business opportunity. 

Achenyo Idachaba set up a firm that processes the weed into handwoven products including baskets and bags.

“The weeds are harvested from water channels and spread out in the sun to dry,” Idachaba said. “They are processed into small ropes, required to weave the products together.”

Some see a brighter future.

Scientists at the University of Lagos said the plants could also be converted into energy as biomass production, to help solve part of Nigeria’s chronic electricity shortages.

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Republic of Congo receives funds to protect rainforest

The Republic of Congo is taking a major step towards protecting its valuable rainforest.

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Republic of Congo to save Rainforest

The Republic of Congo is taking a major step towards protecting its valuable rainforest.

The country’s President, Denis Sassou N’Guesso formally signed up for the Central African Forest Initiative and put the country in a position to receive up to $97 million to protect the rainforest better and fight climate change.

The programme’s financing is provided by a coalition of donors: the European Union, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

During the G-7 summit in August, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to help sub-Saharan African countries fight fires raging in the area.

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Conservation News

Flash flood kills 2, 5 still missing in Kenya

Two survivors from the group alerted park rangers, who sent out a search party.

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Hell's gate national park: flash flood kills 2

Two people have died and five others are missing, or feared dead, after a flash flood Sunday at Kenya’s Hell’s Gate national park, the Kenyan Wildlife Service said. “Seven tourists swept away by the flash floods,” the KWS posted on its Twitter account. “Two bodies recovered while five bodies missing.”

A KWS official earlier told reporters that search and rescue work had been suspended for the night. The missing five were part of a 12-strong group visiting Hell’s Gate – where the 2003 film “Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” was shot – when they were swept away.

Two survivors from the group alerted park rangers, who sent out a search party. There was no sign of the others, Rift Valley police chief Marcus Ochola told journalists. Another police officer said on condition of anonymity they were missing, “presumed dead”, based on witness accounts of two survivors.

The KWS tweeted that a helicopter was due to arrive from Nairobi to help with the search and rescue operation. The gorge had been closed to the public given the continuing rains. The seven people swept away included “five Kenyan tourists, a local guide and a non-resident”, the KWS added.

Hell’s Gate, named by 19th-century explorers, is around 100 kilometres northwest of the Kenyan capital Nairobi and just south of Lake Naivasha. Its spectacular scenery inspired the Disney animation “The Lion King”. The park, established in 1984, is also home to three geothermal stations.

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Business News

Bishop warns of ecological disaster from illegal logging in DR Congo

The illegal loggers often pick up timber that has been abandoned in the forest, but also fell the slow-growing trees in some areas

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Bishop warns that ecological disaster is in the offing due to illegal logging

A Congolese bishop says an “ecological disaster” is unfolding in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo as illegal logging destined for Chinese buyers is threatening the rare Mukula tree. 

“While the whole world decries the ravages of the Amazon fires, an ecological disaster is underway near us” in the Haut Katanga region bordering Zambia, Monsignor Fulgence Muteba said in a statement on Thursday.

Muteba, the Catholic bishop of Haut Katanga’s Kilwa-Kasenga province, said: “intensive, lawless activities” are threatening the already endangered hardwood, which is used for construction as well as furniture.

Known by botanists under its Latin name of Pterocarpus Chrysothrix, the Mukula, a tree famed for the red tinge of its wood, is threatened with extinction in Zambia, environmentalists say. “Those who exploit this precious natural resource… returned to the area a few weeks ago,” Muteba said, charging that “Chinese subjects and people close to the government” were behind the logging.

The illegal loggers often pick up timber that has been abandoned in the forest, but also fell the slow-growing trees in some areas, Muteba said. The bishop also warned that the “looting… does not in any way take into account the degradation of biodiversity” that it causes.

He said he feared the activity would spread into the Kundelungu National Park, a protected area in Haut Katanga province. Muteba has been pointing the finger at illegal logging by Chinese operators in the province since 2016.

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