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Protecting Africa’s oceans to secure our futures

© CI/Mike Matarasso

Editor’s note: This week, Conservation International is co-hosting the Blue Oceans Conference in Liberia to bring attention to ocean conservation issues in Africa, where they have been historically undervalued. Jessica Donovan-Allen, country director of Conservation International Liberia, spoke at the conference. Here is an edited version of her prepared remarks.

I know personally the value of coastal conservation. I grew up the daughter of a fisherman in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, a child of the ocean. My family’s livelihood rose and fell with the tide, but it was — and remains — the action or inaction of businesses, governments and policymakers that most affect the relationship between oceans and the people connected to them through their livelihoods.

That’s why it is our goal at the Blue Oceans Conference — the first major environmental and marine conference in Western Africa — to confront the challenges of marine pollution, climate change and sustainable fishing.

Conservation International is bringing our global expertise to work in 10 coastal communities to create sustainable livelihoods, fisheries and mangrove conservation. We are working to reverse harmful cycles and find sustainable alternatives.

Because when fisheries are poorly managed, they collapse.

When sea levels rise, coastal businesses disappear.

When coasts erode, houses crumble.

When species disappear, the whole composition of the ocean changes.

And when poor regulation is the enabler, local fishermen like my father are out of a job.

When I came to Liberia nearly 15 years ago, I was awestruck by the ocean’s bounty and its coastal vistas. In fact, Liberia has one of the last remaining intact coastal ecosystems.

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My daughters are growing up in Liberia.  As soon as they could walk, they learned to swim, just as I did as a young girl. They too were born and raised near a cape — Cape Mesurado, in Monrovia.

They too are children of the ocean.

So, this is our great hope: That we inherit and endow a love of the ocean among generations. In my family, between the fisherman, his daughter the conservationist and my daughters, we have the future.

So, I wonder:

As Liberia’s beaches are used as dumpsites and bathrooms …

As plastics wash ashore …

As fish are decimated with chemicals, dynamite and mosquito nets …

As we lose these natural resources, how do we not also lose ourselves?

So that’s what’s at stake.

We must. For all our ocean children.

Jessica Donovan-Allen is country director of Conservation International Liberia.

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