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The “pearl of the lagoons” of the Ivory Coast is losing its luster – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

It was once a jewel of West Africa, the “Pearl of the Lagoons” as people liked to call it.

Today, the vast Ebrie Lagoon bordering Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic capital, is a sickly sight, choked with plastic pollution and devastated by sand mining and unbridled development.

Named for an ethnic group that lives on its shores, the lagoon covers 120,000 hectares (297,000 acres), mostly separated from the Atlantic by a strip of land.

Vintage cars are nostalgic for the days when water was a pristine aquamarine and mangroves teeming with fish and wildlife.

Today, the coastal village of Beago is an example of a plastic nightmare problem.

Discarded bottles, packaging, and other plastic debris choke the banks for at least a kilometer (more than half a mile).

“The situation is alarming. Because of the pollution, there are no more fish – fishing has stopped,” said village chief Paul Abe Blessoue, 73.

Urban and industrial waste from Yopougon, Abidjan’s largest district, has turned his village of 3,000 into an open landfill, he said.

“If we’re not careful, Beago could disappear in a few years, abandoned by its residents,” he said.

– Minimal recycling –

Discarded plastic typically enters the marine environment from rivers or drains, or through the wind. Once there, it becomes a notorious problem.

Larger pieces can choke on seabirds and mammals, and after biodegradation that can take years, tiny fragments can enter the food chain at the smallest levels.

Many rich economies are trying to crack down with measures like banning single-use plastic bags, instituting awareness-raising programs, and sorting waste to encourage recycling.

But in Côte d’Ivoire, as in many developing countries, such progress has hardly been made.

The country of 26 million produces 460,000 tons of plastic waste every year, said Yaya Kone, CEO of recycling company Coliba Africa.

Of this, 290,000 tons come from Abidjan, where around six million people live.

“Only three percent is recycled and reused,” he said.

The rest “lands in nature, mainly in the lagoon and in the sea.”

– ‘Dead Bay’ –

The lagoon is one of the largest brackish water bodies in Africa and stretches far across the landscape west of Abidjan to Azagny National Park.

Its eastern point is in Grand Bassam – the first French colonial capital of Ivory Coast, now known for its seafront.

“Plastic is the biggest source of pollution (of the lagoon),” said Ayenon Seka of the Institute of Tropical Geography at the University of Cocody in Abidjan.

But plastic is not the only evil.

Pollution has increased around Bietry Bay from industrial sand extraction and anarchic development.

“Bietry Bay is a dead bay – it’s extremely polluted, a real environmental disaster,” said businessman Bernard Derrien, 76, who has lived in the area since 1998.

He said 1.6 million square meters of the bay has been filled in to build factories there.

– ‘Poto-Poto’ –

Gerard Frere, a Frenchman who has lived in Abidjan for 67 years and owns a hotel on the bay, recalled the old days with nostalgia.

“Bietry used to be a corner of paradise — now it’s Poto-Poto,” Frere said, using a term for muddy terrain infested with mosquitoes and subject to flooding.

A sport fishing specialist, Frere said pollution has cut his sales in half.

“The bottom of the lagoon is lined with 30 centimeters thick plastic waste,” he said.

Voices are being raised to reverse the lagoon’s catastrophic decline and some, like Derrien, are calling for a massive sewer network to ensure the water entering the lagoon from Abidjan is clean.

Residents of Bietry District have formed an association, Abidjan Ma Lagoon, and Kone’s company is launching a training program for up to 6,000 plastic waste collectors.

But public awareness is still far behind, said Kouadio Affian, an oceanographer at the University of Abidjan.

“People don’t realize that a plastic bottle they throw away on the street could end up in the lagoon,” he said.

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