AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives

CENTRAL AFRICA

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The Central African countries of Cameroon, Congo, and Gabon are among the top net oil-exporting countries in Africa.

Chris Martin/Still Pictures

The total length of coastline of Central African countries is 1 789 km, the area of the continental shelf to a depth of 200m is 66 500 km2, and the EEZ extends over 537 900 km2. Central Africa's coastal zone is characterized by lagoons, mangroves, seagrass beds, sandy beaches, and estuarine wetlands constituting vital resources for subsistence activities and for economic development.

With large human settlements and major economic activities along its coast, Central Africa is one of the most vulnerable areas to sea level rise. Current patterns of coastal erosion are exacerbating the problem and many of the unique coastal wetland habitats are under threat. Pollution from land- and sea-based sources is also a priority issue, particularly with the potential expansion of offshore oil and gas production activities.

ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND ECOLOGICAL VALUE OF COASTAL AND MARINE ENVIRONMENTS IN CENTRAL AFRICA

Central Africa's coastal belt is an area of significant commercial activity including mining, agricultural plantations and industrial developments. The belt is experiencing rapid urbanization as a result of these activities. Offshore economic resources, including petroleum and gas, are also significant and the Central African countries of Cameroon, Congo, and Gabon are among the top net oil-exporting countries in Africa. Despite political turmoil in Central Africa, the region has seen offshore and inland crude oil production rise from 650 000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in 1993 to 875 000 bbl/d in 1998. The largest increases in those years were in Equatorial Guinea, Congo, and Gabon. Central Africa's proven gas reserves (about 3 per cent of the continent's total) are concentrated in Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Central Africa accounted for less than 1 per cent of Africa's natural gas production in 1997, but plans are under way to increase production and utilization of gas in national electricity generation (EIA 1999). This could have implications for marine environments, particularly in terms of habitat degradation and pollution.

Commercial fisheries are also important resources for the coastal nations of Central Africa, although the FAO considers stocks of demersal fish (i.e. living close to the sea bottom) to be either close to or fully exploited (FAO 1997). It has recommended that efforts to catch these species be reduced or re-directed, to relieve pressure on the inshore zone and on juveniles. Similarly, catches of small pelagics (i.e. open sea species) in the west and central Gulf of Guinea were considered to be fully exploited, although further south, small pelagic stocks are underexploited (FAO 1997). Pelagic fish abundance around the coast is largely controlled by variability in intensity of coastal upwelling and nutrient levels (FAO 1997). Coastal Central African countries are experiencing similar problems to those in Western Africa with exploitation of their waters by foreign fleets (FAO 1997). There is an urgent need to tighten agreements and to enforce regulations in order to protect national interests, local economies and subsistence livelihoods.