Blue Oceans Environmental Conference Kicks Off

MONROVIA, Montserrado – On Monday, March 18, 2019, the first environmental and marine conference in West Africa opened in the Liberia capital.

The Blue Oceans conference is jointly being organized by the Environment Protection Agency, the Liberia Maritime Authority, and Conservation International.

The Liberian government is partnering with the Embassy of Sweden and Conservation International to hold the environmentally focused conference in Monrovia from March 18-21.

The conference commenced with a beach clean-up in Paynesville’s ELWA community.

Plastic bags and rubber bottles being separated from other materials on a beach in the ELWA community. Photo: Zeze Ballah

Following the exercise on the beach, a press conference was immediately held at the Millennium Guest House located on the Tubman Boulevard.

There, the conference’s steering committee chair, Nathaniel Blama, executive director of the EPA, called the conference “a significant milestone in creating a platform that all stakeholders can meet and dialogue on the issues of the marine ecosystem.”

He said there were many problems confronting the ecosystem ranging from misuse. Instead of being abused, he said the environment needed to be “a major source of livelihood and survival.”

“If we do not preserve, protect and maximize the benefits of the ecosystem for all Liberians – especially the most vulnerable – we could be putting ourselves at risk,” Blama added.

Nathaniel Blama, executive director at the Environment Protection Agency. Photo: Zeze Ballah

The EPA executive director named some of the opportunities in the ecosystem as deposits of oil and fishes.

Today, he said Liberia’s coastal areas suffer from sea erosion coupled with massive pollution and the clearing of mangrove swamps.

“There are lots of challengers and people along the beach have encroached on the waterfront with settlements in contravention of the environmental laws,” he said.

Blama said the conference seeks to elevate discussions for stakeholders to come out with appropriate recommendations challenging Liberians to protect the ecosystem and benefit from it.

“It is now time that Liberians rethink on how to protect and benefit from what God has given us,” he said.

Jessica Donovan, the country director of Conservation International, said her organization has been in Liberia since 2002, with a focus on the country’s forests.

Donovan said her organization was thrilled about “the opportunity to scale our work” to include marine life and the ocean.

“I truly think this is a great frontier for Liberia because it is an entirely undeveloped resource the country has,” she said.

Donovan noted that oceans around the world have provided the food, incomes and livelihood that humans have needed for years but they are not being protected.

In fact, Donovan said the actions that humans take often undermine the resources oceans provide.

“Our partnership with the EPA is growing stronger every day and we will continue to focus on how we can build our costal conservation work,” Donovan said.

Jessica Donovan, Conservation International’s country director. Photo: Zeze Ballah

For her part, Elizabeth Harleman, the head of development corporation organization at the Swedish Embassy, said it was important to have the conference because its aims match those of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly to achieve by 2030.

“The conference is a kick start for the country to really show that it is also in support of reaching the SDGs,” she said.

Elizabeth Harleman, the head of development corporation organization at the Swedish Embassy. Photo: Zeze Ballah

Harleman said she thought the Blue Oceans conference needed to come to West Africa when she first came to Liberia and saw the fantastic ocean outside her office window.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Zeze Ballah

Zeze made his journalism debut as a high school reporter at the LAMCO Area School System. In 2016 and 2017, the Press Union of Liberia awarded Zeze with the Photojournalist of the Year award. Zeze was also the union's 2017 Health Reporter of the Year. He is a Health Journalism Fellow with Internews.

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