The Impact of Oil Exploration on Biodiversity Management in the Niger Delta Area of Nigeria
By, Edward Samuel, Abuja
Environmental pollution arising from oil prospecting and exploration in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria has impacted negatively on the area.
The leakages of crude oil, gas flaring and the escape of other chemicals used in oil production processes has led to serious destruction of its biodiversity over the years.
The oil spills and gas flaring have contaminated, degraded and destroyed the mangrove forests and water bodies of the Niger Delta and the effect on the flora and fauna of the freshwater ecosystems in this part of the country is evident.
In response, the Nigerian government has formulated laws for the protection of the environment from oil exploration. It has also taken steps to make them effective in terms of implementation, enforcement and monitoring by responsible agencies. The oil companies operating in this region have also contributed towards reducing the impact of their activities on the host environment.
The Niger Delta mangrove forest is the third largest in the world and the largest in Africa. The mangrove forests and water systems harbor a vast bio-diversity, that is, the different kinds of life – animals, plants, fungi and even microorganisms. The mangrove forest provides medicinal extracts and chemicals, fish and other marine animals, timber, as well as shelter for the local people.
The harmful effects of oil exploration on the environment are many and diverse. Oil spill kills plants and animals in both the lowland forests and the estuarine zone. The survival of endangered species including the Delta elephant, the white-crested monkey, the river hippopotamus and crocodiles is also increasingly being threatened by oil exploration and exploitation.
Oil settles on beaches, damaging organisms that live there; it also settles on the ocean floor and kills benthic organisms such as crabs. Oil poisons algae, disrupts major food chains and decreases the yield of edible crustaceans. It also coats birds, impairing their flight or reducing the insulate property of their feathers, thus making the birds more vulnerable to cold.
The oil spills have over the years endangered fish hatcheries in the coastal waters and also contaminated the flesh of commercially valuable fish.
Unfortunately, most state and local government institutions involved in environmental resource management lack funding, trained staff, technical expertise, adequate information, analytical capability and other prerequisites. This has tended to slow down the process of implementing the comprehensive policies and programmes of the Nigerian government’s laws against environmental and biodiversity destruction.
It has therefore become necessary to create regional spill response centres along coastlines, to help in managing oil spill problems in the Niger Delta. Similarly, the oil industry should work closely with government agencies, universities and research centres to combat the menace of oil spill incidents and their attendant consequences.
The government is also expected to try and streamline the functions of the various agencies charged with the responsibilities of implementing the environmental laws, in order to avoid duplication of functions.
This would help to achieve effective implementation, enforcement and monitoring, which would in turn ultimately help in mitigating the effects of oil exploration on the biodiversity of the Niger Delta area of Nigeria.