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How Nipa palms affect fishing in Niger Delta despite health benefits

By Nneka Nwogwugwu

Nipa Palm or Nypa fruticans, is an unusual palm tree in which its trunks grows beneath the ground and only its leaves and flower stalks grow above the surface.

NatureNews had reported how fishermen in Rivers state complained of how the Nipa palms are affecting fishing activities.

Speaking during a meeting with fishermen, organized by Home of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at Kono community in Khana Local Government Area, Deedum Mercy, a periwinkle farmer, complained that the presence of the nipa palms have affected women from picking periwinkles that will be enough for sales.

She said, ‘’I have been picking periwinkles for 25 years. Before now, when these leaves [nipa palms] were not around, we always enjoy picking periwinkles. I used this isam [periwinkles] to train my children but since these leaves started growing, I can’t make great sales and it has affected my children’s education.

‘’Before, we pick 2 bags of periwinkle a day but now before you get one custard, it will be very difficult. Government should help us to remove those nipa palms.’’

Also, a fisherman, Lenwinee Nuka, added that for fishermen, harvests have been very poor since the nipa palms started growing.

He said that the nipa palms have also affected the mangroves from growing, thus, affecting smaller fishes from feeding and growing.

NatureNews gathered that nipa palm is a native to the coastlines and estuarine habitats of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

According to a study by Plants For A Future, the trunk can reach up to 45 cm in diameter and the leaves can each be up to 6 m long. The inflorescence of this palm is globose and comprised of female flowers at the tip and male flowers at the lower branches.

It is edible and also yields sugary sap used mainly to make alcoholic beverages, syrup, sugar, and vinegar. The seed is eaten raw; it is harvested when fruits are immature. Plant parts have medicinal uses and specifically used in traditional medicine to treat toothache, headache, ulcers, and centipede bites. The leaves are used for thatching and making baskets and mats, and considered to be of superior quality than coconut thatch. Nipa palm can be grown from seeds or by dividing off suckers.

Despite its health benefits, the spread of nipa in the coastal zones of Nigeria threatens the mangrove vegetation of the zone by outcompeting and displacing the native mangrove species, thereby lowering biodiversity as well as affecting people’s livelihoods through reduced fish catch and reduced collection of shellfish.

Nipa palm which is also a type of mangrove plants, was introduced to West Africa in the beginning of the 20th century and is found in Nigeria and in northern Cameroon as far south as the southern side of the Wouri Estuary, Plants For A Future stated on their website.

Recall that Human/environmental rights defender based in the Niger Delta, Comr. Celestine Abobari, called on the government to take proper action on how to eliminate the invasion of nipa palms for the preservation of the ecosystem.

‘’Nipa palm have taken over mangroves and as long as we have this, we won’t have peace. These are one of the reasons the government set up Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) but still, nothing has been done to remove the nipa palms.

‘’If we don’t attack it now, they will be no fish in the future,’’ he said.

However, the Coordinator of Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Prof. Nenibarini Zabbey in his paper tilted ‘’Assessment of Asymmetric Mangrove Restoration Trials in Ogoniland, Niger Delta, Nigeria: Lessons for Future Intervention’’ recommended restoration of mangrove as they were broader impacts of mangrove clearance.

According to Zabbey, ‘’Lewis and Marshall (1997) recommended five steps for successful mangrove restoration programs. They recommended that it is important to investigate site-specific sediment needs of a would-be mangrove restoration site, particularly nutrient availability, followed by removing signifi-cant barriers to recovery. Furthermore, mangrove nursery should not be located too far from planting site in order to minimize transplanting transportation stress.

‘’Intensive mangrove restoration schemes and the establishment of mangrove protected areas would, to a large extent, conserve mangroves of the Niger Delta and enhance the region’s coastal and inland wild fisheries and biodiversity. Focused research is needed to understand the functional dynamics of Niger Delta mangroves. This would provide scientific basis for developing informed mangrove management and conservation strategies for the region.

‘’Restoration of degraded mangrove areas in the Niger Delta is strongly recommended, in order to reactivate and/or sustain the region’s numerous mangrove-dependent economies,’’ he wrote.

Zabbey, who made available his paper to NatureNews for further investigation, noted that broader impacts of mangrove clearance included elimination of fish breeding areas for different fish species.
He said, ‘’It is estimated that 1 ha of mangrove supports fish production of 90–280 tons per annum, the implication is that mangrove clearing substantially reduces the space for fish breeding, nursery and consequently production.

‘’As a result, economic benefits or overall ecosystem service rendered by the mangrove ecosystem is compromised. Coastal communities who often derive economic benefits therefrom would be further impoverished, because alternative livelihoods are often not available.

‘’Similarly, the role of mangroves in carbon sequestration is greatly impaired, even while the Niger Delta region is the hub of oil production and associated gas flaring in Nigeria.’’

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