Biodiversity, the intricate web of life encompassing plants, animals, microorganisms, and ecosystems, plays a pivotal role in sustaining human well-being. Nigeria, a country teeming with diverse natural landscapes, is home to a plethora of species. However, the growing threats of habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, invasive species, and climate change are putting this biological wealth at risk. The nuanced biodiversity scenario in Nigeria is looked into, shedding light on its unique ecosystems, the challenges it faces, and the opportunities for sustainable conservation. Nigeria’s biodiversity is astounding, boasting over 864 species of birds, 117 amphibians, 203 reptiles, more than 775 species of fish, and a staggering 285 mammal species, as outlined in the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime (2022-2026).
The country’s natural ecosystems range from semi-arid savannas to lush rainforests and encompass diverse coastal vegetation and vast freshwater swamp forests. The Niger Delta, a global biodiversity hotspot, stands out as a critical ecosystem. Home to Africa’s largest mangrove forest, covering one million hectares, and hosting 11 Ramsar sites spanning 1,076,728 hectares, the Niger Delta harbors endangered species like the Niger Delta red colobus, the Cross River gorilla, the African manatee, and the leatherback turtle. For many Nigerians, especially those in rural areas, biodiversity is a lifeline. It provides essential ecosystem services such as food, medicine, raw materials, and cultural value.
Significance of biodiversity for Nigerians amid threats and undervaluation.
Approximately 70% of Nigerian households in rural and semi-urban areas heavily rely on firewood for energy. Furthermore, the burgeoning tourism industry in Nigeria, dependent on wildlife, nature reserves, and abundant water bodies, adds to the economic importance of biodiversity. Despite its significance, biodiversity in Nigeria is undervalued, and its biological resources face constant threats. The IUCN Red List for 2019 identified 309 threatened species in Nigeria. The primary drivers of biodiversity loss include habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. population growth, urbanization, poverty, weak governance, and lack of awareness exacerbate these challenges.
Also, the nation grapples with multifaceted challenges in biodiversity conservation. Inadequate funding, limited capacity and data, conflicting policies, poor enforcement, low stakeholder collaboration, and insufficient public awareness hinder the effective implementation of conservation efforts. These challenges underscore the urgent need for a comprehensive and collaborative approach. A significant threat to Nigeria’s biodiversity is habitat loss and fragmentation. Between 2000 and 2015, the country lost one million hectares of forest land due to logging, mining, infrastructure projects, and agricultural expansion. Deforestation jeopardizes wildlife habitats, impacting species like elephants, chimpanzees, lions, and crocodiles. Addressing this threat requires integrated land use planning, ecosystem-based management, and the expansion of protected areas.
Some of the challenges facing the sector in Nigeria.
Overexploitation poses a severe threat to Nigerian biodiversity, especially with the estimated annual harvest of 1.7 million tons of bushmeat worth US$1 billion. Sustainable resource management practices, coupled with strict regulations, monitoring, and awareness campaigns, are essential to mitigate the impact of overexploitation on both wildlife and plant species. Also, pollution, from industrial effluents to oil spills, poses a serious threat to Nigeria’s biodiversity. The Niger Delta, enduring over 50 years of oil pollution, stands as a stark example. Strict environmental standards, monitoring, enforcement, and the promotion of clean technologies are imperative to combat pollution and safeguard ecosystems.
Invasive species, such as water hyacinth and Nile perch, disrupt native ecosystems and pose a considerable challenge. Comprehensive strategies, including prevention, eradication, and collaboration, are necessary to curb their impact. Awareness campaigns and international cooperation can play a pivotal role in managing invasive species effectively. Then, climate change, with its far-reaching impacts on temperature, precipitation, and sea levels, compounds existing threats to biodiversity. Nigeria must adopt mitigation and adaptation strategies, including promoting low-carbon development, sustainable land management, and supporting local communities.
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As of now, Nigeria stands at a critical juncture where biodiversity conservation is not just an environmental imperative but a social and economic necessity. While challenges loom large, the country has opportunities to enhance economic development, reduce poverty, and ensure food security through sustainable conservation practices. By strengthening protected areas, promoting sustainable resource use, tackling pollution, managing invasive species, and addressing climate change, Nigeria can chart a sustainable path forward for its rich biodiversity. The time to act is now, and the collaboration of stakeholders, government, and the public is key to securing a bio diverse and resilient future for Nigeria.