When the sight of plastic bags, bottles and other debris littering the seabed becomes too much, there’s just one thing to do: don your diving suit, strap on an air tank and fish out the stuff yourself.
That is the solution adopted by Oceanium, an association of amateur divers in Senegal.
In a few hours last month, divers removed hundreds of kilos of plastic rubbish in the waters around the island of Goree off the capital Dakar — the jewel in Senegal’s tourism crown.
In real terms, their cleanup was Sisyphean: they removed a molehill in a mountain of plastic that is relentlessly growing.
But it provided temporary relief for local biodiversity — and gave a push for environmentalism in a country where green issues trail far behind the drive to ease poverty.
“We’re here to clean up,” exclaimed Ndeye Selbe Diouf, a young woman who took up diving two years ago and said she had lost count of fish she has seen trapped in bottles near the shore.
Oceanium’s diving director, Rodwan El Ali, 36, said the problem of plastic rubbish in Senegal was acute.
“People go to the beach and drink and party, and if there are no rubbish bins, they leave it on the beach and it’s swept into the sea with the tide,” he said.
Ali, a member of the ethnic Lebanese community that has been in Senegal for generations, took over Oceanium with his sister after its founding by their father, Haidar, a former environment minister.
“When we see fishing nets tangled around shipwrecks or plastic littering the sea bottom, we organise a cleanup,” he said.
Their first operation took place in 2017 and is moving towards a monthly cleanup dive — even weekly, if funding becomes available.
“People throw everything into the sea because they think it’s big,” said Mamadou Ali Gadiaga, who has been a member of Oceanium since it was founded 35 years ago.
“It’s a hard job but you have to make people aware of the problem. The sea is not a dustbin.”
Twenty-two divers took part in a cleanup in mid-September, using two boats for operations and a third as a floating bin for the rubbish.
By the close of the operation, they had hauled up 1.4 tonnes of debris — mainly plastic but also rusty drink cans, torn clothing and other discarded items.
This gesture for the environment has to be weighed against the realities.
Even though Senegal is in the upper tier of developing economies, it has no recycling facilities.
The rubbish that was so arduously brought up from the bottom of the sea was sent to a huge garbage tip at Mbeubeuss, where household waste from Dakar’s three million people is discharged.
According to the UN, globally, around eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea, providing a deadly hazard for birds and marine mammals and breaking down into microscopic waste that also enters the food chain.
Around nine billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the substance was produced on a large scale after World War II, but just nine per cent of this has been recycled.
In Senegal itself, environmental awareness remains low compared with the rising swell of campaigning in the rest of the world. Only a few dozen young people turned out on September 20 for the planet-wide environment rallies.
President Macky Sall has said he wants the country to be “zero waste” but discarded plastic containers and bags are an eyesore in many towns and villages, and a 2015 law to restrict the use of plastic bags is a dead letter.
Young climate activists push for more awareness in Africa
No continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa
As Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion inspire climate protesters across the globe, young African activists say they still struggle to make themselves heard.
“No continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa,” the United Nations Environment Programme said as it warned of increased flooding, widespread food insecurity and major economic losses.
But awareness remains low and a study from research institute Afrobarometer in August said that four in 10 Africans have never heard of climate change.
At the Climate Chance conference in Ghana’s capital Accra this week hundreds of campaigners, local government officials and business people from across the continent sought a way forward.
Togolese activist Kevin Ossah, 22, led a mock United Nations debate that pitched participants playing the role of major polluters like the United States against those set to bear the biggest burden of the crisis.
He said he admires the huge crowds taking to the streets from Sydney to Stockholm, but in his West African homeland — ruled by an authoritarian regime that has cracked down on protests — that wasn’t really an option.
“As youths, we can’t be putting our lives in insecurity by entering roads and doing something that Greta is doing,” he told AFP.
Instead, he plans to focus on more practical steps like planting trees, educating rural communities and writing to leaders calling for action.
“I think the thing we can do is use communication and digital communications skills,” he said.
“We have to share information and let other people know about us and share the efforts that we are doing.”
Africa produces only a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions and the fight against climate change can often be seen as an issue more for people living in the developed economies of Europe, America and Asia.
But those attending the conference insisted awareness could grow if local officials and activists focus on the problems Africans confront every day.
Akwannuasah Gyimah, municipal chief executive of Asokwa in central Ghana, told AFP he was committed to increasing education about climate change to his constituents.
As a starting point, he wants to target the poorly maintained vehicles that belch acrid black fumes into the faces of passersby in his region.
“It is difficult to deal with this situation because the people don’t even understand what it means,” he said in reference to the environmental impact.
Benin’s former environment minister Luc Gnacadja said one problem was the lack of access to information and education on the issue.
He said young people needed localised data about the impact that climate change is having on populations and the economy to help lead the fight.
‘There will be change’
Crowds have taken to the streets in some African cities as part of the global protest movement — but their numbers have been tiny compared to elsewhere.
Gnacadja said the bold tactics employed by young demonstrators in the West did not readily translate to the rigid hierarchies of societies where challenging elders is often a taboo.
“They can’t just go ahead and speak like Greta Thunberg, of course, the youth in Africa will have difficultly to say ‘how dare you’,” he said.
Those challenges did not seem to faze Patience Alifo, 23, from Ghana.
The climate campaigner insisted that youth needed to be included in the debate — and that often it is the people in power who need educating the most.
Alifo said some authorities refuse to listen to young activists and the solutions they might propose.
Even at the climate conference, she insisted, more young people should be represented.
“We are the current generation, and we are the ones who will face the consequences, if we have the knowledge about it, I am sure they (young people) will all be here to negotiate or advocate for good policies,” she said.
And like activists across the world, she said campaigners in Ghana were getting bolder and would not be silenced or ignored.
“Even though we are not seeing the desired results we believe that as we continue there is going to be a change.”
Gabon ready to receive funds to fight deforestation
Norway to give Gabon, which is almost 90 percent covered by forest, with $150 million to battle deforestation
Gabon will become the first African country paid with international funds to preserve its forests in an effort to fight climate change, the United Nations said Sunday.
Norway will provide Gabon, which is almost 90 percent covered by forest, with $150 million to battle deforestation, according to the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), which the UN launched to bring together the region’s nations with Western donors.
The “historic” 10-year deal will be awarded to Gabon for “both reducing its greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation, and absorption of carbon dioxide by natural forests,” CAFI said in a statement.
The announcement comes ahead of a major UN climate summit on Monday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called to ask countries to raise their greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Gabon has been a leader in Central Africa in preserving its rainforests, creating 13 national parks since 2000 that cover around 11 percent of the country.
It has around 12 percent of the Congo Basin forest, the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, and is home to almost 60 percent of the surviving forest elephants in Africa, which CAFI said was “a key indicator of sound natural resource governance”.
A major scandal involving a huge haul of illegally logged Kevazingo, a tropical hardwood, led to the vice president being sacked, and British-born environmental campaigner Lee White being appointed forestry minister.
Ugandan children boycott school to march for climate change action
The protest was also attended by Uganda’s most high-profile young climate change activist Leah Namugerwa
Hundreds of Ugandan children gathered Friday to demand action on climate change, as part of a global movement of youngsters demanding adults act to halt environmental catastrophe.
They arrived by bus, on motorbike taxis and on foot, to begin their march in the town of Wakiso on the edge of the capital Kampala with placards denouncing the government’s failure to tackle climate change issues.
“How many people have to die for you to act?” 12-year-old activist Cissy Mukasa asked on her poster. “This time, government must act.”
Uganda, a verdant nation with stunning natural features such as the dramatic Rwenzori mountains, wild animals such as mountain gorillas and Africa’s largest lake, is facing significant climate shifts attributed to global warming.
This includes prolonged droughts and more intense rainfall leading to floods, landslides and disease.
Uganda’s youth were joining children around the world following the rallying cry of Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg to skip school and protest for action on climate issues.
“Parliament, political and religious leaders, why are you silent?” read a placard carried by Zedekia Wafula, 12.
Diplomatic missions handed out food and water to the protesters, while bands provided music.
The protest was also attended by Uganda’s most high-profile young climate change activist Leah Namugerwa, 15, who created waves when she began her own solitary school strikes in February, before others joined her.
Adult climate activists and environmental groups also took part.
In neighbouring Kenya, hundreds of children and adults also took to the streets to take part in what are set to be the largest global climate protests in history.
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