Distant archipelagos on Nigeria’s eroded coastline

Written by Staff Writer

Published in the June 2016 issue

Many of the world’s most eroding cities — including Naples, Dar Es Salaam and Tierra del Fuego — have in common three factors: enormous volume of sediment and build-up from urban development, invasive species and geological cycles.

Nigeria seems to have chosen the last option: the country’s encroaching shorelines have only grown increasingly complex as it continues to urbanize.

Thanks to the loss of coastal regions (and varying levels of environmental regulation), the country is at risk of experiencing one of the worst erosion crises in history.

Dead fish slither in the sand of popular Lagos beach in Nigeria.Credit: Hegma Amo’adama/AFP/Getty Images

“There’s nothing that is scientific about it,” said Gbemiga Brown, a researcher with Oxfam International. “It’s just a lack of controls and some corrupt politicians who encourage erosion because they believe that it will boost their own political fortunes.”

Brown studied the relationship between climate change and coastal erosion in northern Lagos, a city of over 20 million people. There, he first found evidence of “Lake Malawi,” a strip of saltwater that had transformed once-fresh sand dunes into a region known as “Nigeria’s Gulf of Mexico.”

Nigeria has been plagued by severe erosion in many coastal cities. Credit: Hegma Amo’adama/AFP/Getty Images

This phenomenon is what Brown refers to as a “river front extension,” a complex and contested process initiated when sediment falls from the Mississippi River to Lake Malawi, where it influences the local coastline.

And there are many displaced residents among Lagos’ watery palaces of Rawlings Road, FESTAC Town and Peleloa, an under-construction amusement park with a ferris wheel.

Brown discovered that inland communities, many of whom comprise displaced Nigerians and refugees from the country’s civil war, were increasingly sensitive to eroding coastlines. At the same time, he found that government institutions were overwhelmed and underfunding the issue.

Elaborating on his research, Brown also studied climate change’s impact on sand banks and sand between Lake Malawi and Lagos.

The rise in sea levels has had a dramatic impact on water quality in Lagos. Credit: Hegma Amo’adama/AFP/Getty Images

To demonstrate the extent of the problem, he found the architecture of Rawlings Road had sunk by 50% and was collapsing upon itself as more sediment moved inland. In his findings, he wrote, “In the short term, persistent rainfall and saltwater intrusion could destabilize these marsh islands and they could be quickly re-submerged.”

In the long term, however, it is likely that Africa will eventually be confronted with one of the most disastrous impacts of climate change: an even more massive shoreline-erosion epidemic.

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