State of the Marine Environment (SoME) report validation workshop in Benin
The approval of the SoME report constitutes an important milestone towards enhancing Integrated Ocean Management in the country and in West Africa.
On August 6th & 7th 2020, parties met during a workshop in Cotonou to review and approve Benin’s State of the Marine Environment (SoME) report – the first ever developed in the country. As part of the project for the Integrated Management of the Marine and Coastal Zone (GIZMaC), the production of this report follows that of the descriptive report of the Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs), previously approved in June 2019, submitted to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and currently being circulated among the different stakeholders involved in marine and coastal management in the country. The approval of Benin’s SoME report constitutes a crucial step on the way to managing its coastal resources more sustainably, creating new marine protected areas (MPAs) in the country, as well as towards enhanced Integrated Ocean Management in the West-African subregion more generally.
After clarifying the purpose of the SoME report in the introduction to the workshop, Ms. Faustine Sinzogan, GIZMaC Project Coordinator, presented the different steps that led to the elaboration of the report, and the respective roles played by the three thematic groups (ecology and biology; pollution and water quality; and socioeconomic parameters) involved in the process. The elaborated report was examined, amended and consolidated by a scientific committee composed of Professors from the University of Abomey-Calavi, and of experts in the field of marine and coastal environmental management. It presents the marine and coastal environment of Benin, the state of the resources, and the different pressures on the latter, including fisheries, mangrove exploitation, pollution, but also climate change and coastal erosion. The report is accompanied by recommendations intended to guide the relevant authorities in taking the necessary actions required to support the sustainable development of the Beninese coastal zone.
The approval of this report provides an opportunity to reflect on SoME reporting with Pr. Jacques André Ndione, UNEP Trainer in Integrated Environment Assessment and Member of National of Academy of Sciences and Technics of Senegal, who supervises the process for the French-speaking MAMI WATA pilot project countries – Bénin and Côte d’Ivoire – and who facilitated the capacity development workshop held by the GIZMaC project in Cotonou in September 2019. That workshop had been crucial in introducing stakeholders to what SoME reporting is, and to the different stages included in this process.
“The coastal and marine environment is at the nexus of complex interactions between a wide diversity of actors and their different activities. With the SoME reporting process, we hence seek to assess whether this environment is degraded or well-preserved, to describe the potential pressures it is under, but also to bring together the bodies involved in coastal and marine management and development, in order to foster a sustainable environment”, Pr. Ndione explained.
The ideal duration for the SoME reporting process is 18 months. This time frame proved to be quite tight in the case of Benin, where the process was being implemented for the first time. This was particularly due to the time needed for the appropriation of the DPSIR framework (Driving Forces – Pressures – State – Impacts – Responses) by the reporting team. The SoME report can be produced in three different ways: (i) on the basis of environmental indicators, (ii) on the basis of a literature review, or (iii) on the basis of expert elicitation. Due to tight time frames, the report for Benin was produced using a combination of the two first approaches. On that note, Mr. Ndione regreted the lack of data in some cases (e.g. with regards to marine genetic resources and bioprospecting), either because these were not available, or because of a lack of time for accessing them. However, this did not affect the scientific credibility of the report, which went through a thorough peer-review process before its approval.
In addition, in spite of important constraints experienced as a result of measures taken by the Beninese Government to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic – including social distancing and travel restrictions – that have notably affected field work and meetings, several positive points pertaining to the SoME reporting process in Benin can be raised. In this regard, Pr. Ndione first noted the excellent work of Ms. Sinzogan and her team in terms of coordination and communication, both internally within the GiZMaC project, and with the different stakeholder groups involved. Furthermore, the inclusive approach taken by the GIZMaC project proved determinant for the mobilization of a broad range of stakeholder groups, as well as for ensuring the representativeness of local knowledge and expertise.
Crucial for the successful completion of the SoME process was also the expertise and dedication of the redaction team. As such, Pr. Ndione very much welcomed the production of the report by a redaction team composed for this specific purpose, instead of outsourcing that part of the process to external consultants. The in-house redaction of the report indeed constituted an excellent opportunity for the team to put in practice the training received in 2019 in its entirety, not only for the coordination and data collection processes, but also for the redaction part. Pr. Ndione finally noted the important role of the Abidjan Convention Secretariat and GRID-Arendal in coordinating the overall process at regional and international levels.
In the coming months, the SoME report and its related products (executive summary, video, etc.), will be circulated among the relevant stakeholders in Benin. Further activities and outputs to come under the GIZMaC project include the validation of the legal text officially establishing the new MPA near Donaten – one of the two EBSAs described in Benin – and the validation of its management plan, as well as the organization of a national workshop on the implementation of marine spatial planning in Benin – the date of which will be communicated in the course of the month of September.
 Over the last few decades, increasing attention has been given to the commercial potential of exploiting marine genetic and associated natural product resources for a range of industries including pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, cosmetics, agriculture and industrial biotechnology (Global Ocean Commission 2013; UNEP-Nairobi Convention and WIOMSA, 2015).
Picture: GIZMaC project