Supporting the Embassy of Sweden in Monrovia in its partnership with the Government of Liberia and Conservation International, NIRAS helps launch the first Oceans Conference in West Africa to address some of the most critical challenges affecting the marine and coastal environments
The Blue Oceans Conference in Liberia had one ambition: to be a turning point for ocean conservation, where the decline in the health of the marine environment would finally be halted and even reversed for the benefit of people, the planet, and our shared prosperity.
Kicked off with a beach-cleaning exercise to create public awareness and education among youth and community groups about the state of Liberia's coasts, the four-day Blue Ocean Conference, held 18-21 March in Monrovia, successfully built on earlier momentum.
The United Nation's Oceans Conference in June 2017, hosted by Sweden and Fiji, and the recent (November 2018) Nairobi Sustainable Blue Economy Conference focused on creating opportunities for African countries and relevant stakeholders to understand the challenges associated with marine governance and sustainable development, specifically regarding climate change impacts, pollution, unsustainable fishing practices, economic opportunities, and maritime security.
With a growing sense of urgency, these conferences bring together UN agencies, governments, civil society, and the private sector to address some of the most critical challenges affecting the marine and coastal environments, including the potential role integrated ocean management across Africa could have in strengthening the sustainable use of marine resources. Four key themes emerged at the Liberia conference: marine pollution, climate change, sustainable fishing, and the blue economy.
Liberia’s spectacular coastline stretches 560 kilometres and features an abundance of maritime resources and species such as marlins, swordfishes, whales, turtles, and dolphins. The country has a long history of maritime industry, including shipping and fishing, where many local communities are dependent on marine resources and there is a dedication to improving maritime governance and sustainability.
But according to Conservation International's Dr Sebastian Troeng, West Africa has the highest dependency of ocean resources compared to other global regions. In bringing together an array of experts in science, policy, management, communication, and public engagements from across the globe, Liberia wanted to make a statement that the oceans matter. The conference presented the government with a unique opportunity to harness the expertise gathered and use it to take a leadership in ocean stewardship in West Africa.
NIRAS's role in Blue Oceans was to bring a ‘Swedish’ perspective to the debate, including inviting speakers and providing guidance on the agenda. We coordinated and facilitated preparations and organised external experts providing both technical and moderation input for the planning as well as for the conference sessions, and we provided support during the event.
The Government of Liberia, Conservation International, and the Swedish Embassy in Liberia is delighted that the conference has helped raise awareness about the ocean, and closed the event with a “call for action” for Liberia and the West Africa region to drive the process forward.
“Don’t let this conference be the end, but rather a new beginning,” said Ingrid Wetterqvist, Swedish Ambassador to Liberia. "Liberia can be a blue economy AND green economy, and that this can become a positive narrative for the nation.
And although Liberia has support from around the world and a wealth of research and policy knowledge from the private sector, civil society, international organisations and academia, at the end of day, Liberians themselves must step up. As Patrick Burrowes, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Liberia's Cuttington University said when explaining the importance of including environmental awareness in the sustained education of our children, "This realisation [a sustainable world] cannot come from Sweden or abroad. It must come from within. Students in Liberia need to have a relationship with the ocean.”