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Right Back To The
Deep Blue

The Ocean, Climate Resilience and the African Dilemma

Author: Stephanie Oserwa Schandorf, Kafui Adzo Tona-Gaogli

In the last decade, there has been a burgeoning awareness of the dualistic relationship between the ocean and the global climate: the ocean plays an immutable role in regulating global climate but it is also one of the planetary systems most adversely affected by climate change. This recognition transcended several discussions during the recently ended United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) – and while there was a clear concession towards the need to strengthen ocean resilience in the battle against climate change, State commitments towards that end remain largely insufficient.

The reasons for this are shrouded in political and economic complexities, each of which are buttressed by a narrative that reinforces the perception of climate change as a futuristic concern, as opposed to a pertinent crisis whose effects can already be witnessed across the globe.

For developing countries and coastal communities across the African continent, the implications of the climate crisis are as extensive as they are immeasurable. Despite the fact that the entire continent accounts for less than 4% of greenhouse gas emissions, Africa remains the most vulnerable to climate change and its adverse impacts. Beyond the predominantly perceived land-centric implications of climate change such as droughts, floods, changes in land-based ecosystems and consequent loss of biodiversity, several oceanic ecosystems – and the millions of African livelihoods that depend on them – are on the brink of collapse.


Large portions of West Africa’s coasts, which host about a third of the entire region’s population, continue to be swallowed up by coastal erosion. Again, environmental degradation in the coastal areas of Benin, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo is believed to cost the countries close to $4 billion. When this is juxtaposed with the heavy reliance on fisheries as a source of protein within the sub-region, the debilitating effects of illegal fishing on fish stocks and the concurrent implications of marine litter and plastic pollution on marine ecosystems, a rather bleak picture comes to bear.

If there is one thing that the discussions above highlight, it is that the ocean-climate nexus is actually a loop within which Africa is deeply entrenched. As indicated earlier, Africa remains the most vulnerable continent to the climate crisis; and yet the climate crisis in itself has dire implications for ocean health and resilience, on which African livelihoods so heavily depend.


There are some tangible steps that can be taken to address this African dilemma. First, given disconnect between African vulnerability to the climate crisis and the continent’s contribution to the problem, it is integral that African States collectively press towards influencing global outcomes in favor of extensive and decisive climate action. Of course, this requires, first and foremost, the systemic elimination of sea-blindness across the continent – a condition evidenced by the pervasive disconnect between academic research output on the ocean-climate nexus and national/regional agendas. Policy-makers need to come to a recognition, not only of the centrality of the ocean to supporting African livelihoods, but also of the need to prioritize ocean sustainability on national and regional agendas. Such a recognition requires several drivers and enablers, viz:

  • Educating journalists on Africa’s dilemma within the ocean-climate nexus and equipping them with requisite tools of inquiry to effectively and persistently probe into matters pertaining to ocean and marine resource governance. Ultimately, this would likely capture the attention of the general public and drive them to ask the right questions, while placing an upward-pressure on policy-makers to be more effective stewards of the State’s marine resources.

  • Enhancing ocean literacy amongst youth and encouraging more early career ocean professionals. African youth are integral to driving innovation and change across the continent. More ocean-literate youth and early career ocean professionals would mean louder voices for the ocean, from grassroot levels to national and regional levels.

  • Creating adequate national, regional and continental forums for building consensus around ocean issues. The African Union has historically addressed ocean issues, albeit to a limited extent. Thus, greater effort must be channeled towards facilitating essential debates aimed at building the health and resilience of the continent’s oceans

Secondly, African States must be oriented towards advancing Blue Economies through ocean investments. Investments in maritime tourism, for instance, are more likely to result in more effective measures aimed at driving coastal resilience and preserving the integrity of coastal marine ecosystems. Investments in the conservation of coral reefs as a tourist attraction could also potentially create millions of dollars in revenue, as some reefs are known to generate more than a million dollars per square kilometer. These revenues can be channeled towards enhancing coastal livelihoods and building climate resilience. More importantly, though, the effective conservation of reefs will ensure sustainability of coastal fisheries and other forms of marine life.

Finally, while scientific and analytical research on the ocean, its ecosystems and approaches to building climate resilience within coastal communities is crucial, limiting climate change concerns to the confines of academia is, in and of itself, one of the major inhibitions to progress on climate action within the African context. The ocean-climate discourse is often centered within the academic and scientific community and perceived as a problem of academia, rather than as a socio-political concern or practical problem affecting all well-being and livelihoods.

Perhaps this divide is even more apparent within policy spaces, where – as indicated earlier – academic research on the ocean-climate nexus seldom feeds into the scoping of national and regional priorities. Ghana presents a useful case in point. Despite seemingly laudable efforts to implement a closed season in 2019, strong, research-backed recommendations by the scientific community to host the closed season for all fishers (both artisanal and industrial) in the month of August were ignored by the government.

While it is clear that policy-makers have a role to play in giving adequate consideration to academic output and research findings prior to decision-making, it is also likely that a purposeful shift from perceptions of ocean sustainability and climate resilience as a problem of academia to a problem of all disciplines, could result in more collaborative thinking patterns with the power to influence political will beyond what traditional academic research could ever achieve alone.

What is needed therefore, is a truly cross-practice approach that integrates solutions from a variety of disciplines and professions in using the ocean as a pathway to addressing Africa’s climate conundrum. Creatives, accountants, fashion designers and individuals from a broad array of other professions can each contribute meaningfully and wield exponential impacts towards ocean sustainability and climate action for Africa.

For decades, the ocean has yielded enormous tangible and intangible benefits to livelihoods across the continent, regardless of whether these are found within coastal States, or land-linked countries. Thus, it is no surprise that debates on climate resilience should lead African people right back to the ocean. An appreciation of the ocean-climate nexus may be essential for the entire planet; but it is a prerequisite to the well-being of African people.

How to cite this page:

Adzo Tona-Gaogli, K., Oserwa Schandorf, S. (2022). Right Back To The
Deep Blue [online] Available at:


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