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Isio Wanogho: Climate Change & Its Effect on Africa’s 2nd Smallest Island

Isio De-laVega

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Unfortunately, the welfare of many of the continent’s poorest people – who depend on fishing and rain-fed agriculture – are threatened, because they live in places that are most vulnerable to the negative impacts of global rising temperatures and climate change.

Last month, I journeyed to São Tomé, and one day, I had a burning desire for fresh fish. I decided to go get some from the local fishermen at the bay area.

I did not intend to walk into a full-blown argument between the fishermen. No sooner had I arrived, than four policemen came to settle their differences. They were arguing because some fishermen had been caught using an illegal fishing net that endangered young marine life. The police were called, and the nets were confiscated.

I was truly amazed, and impressed.

You see, the world had told me that São Tomé was a forgotten island, with its people mostly poor and illiterate. What the world neglected to tell me, was that the island was a paradise and a treasure of eco-diverse beauty, and that its people were nature-conservationists at a level that was quite simply, impressive.

The acts of the fishermen that morning caught my interest, which in turn piqued my curiosity. How much did they know about climate change? Were they aware of global policies regarding these issues? Did they care? I wanted to know how safe the island was, their mitigation and adaptation strategies and if the island had ever been hit by floods or hurricanes.

That evening I set out for the home of Alvar Manuel, a 44-year-old fisherman who had been fishing the waters of the South-Atlantic Ocean for 25 years.

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Mr Alvar Manuel, with his son and four daughters in front of their home in Santana, São Tomé.

Mr Manuel confirmed my worst fears. In 25 years, the fish population had dwindled at a distressing rate – forcing local fishermen to venture 40-50 miles further into the ocean to find fish that was once plentiful at the bay. There, they had to compete with industrial fishing vessels that over-fished.

That was not all; he shared that many of the fish-types that had seemed so common at the time of his youth, had seemingly suffered sudden disappearance. Locally named species like the maspombo, sopa, tchin-tchin, bebeca, bonito, gbala-gbala and the zamvalia were gone. As the years progressed, local shark-sightings became less and less, the last sighting he knew of being in 1990.

Massive female Leatherback

Massive female Leatherback

He also explained why the fishermen were so angry that morning that they had to call the police. It was because of the drastic decline in fish population. In awareness of what could threaten the livelihood of so many, fishermen were forbidden to fish with generic fishing-nets that caught young fish. This was to allow young fish reach maturity, and eventually reproduce.

When I asked about natural disasters, rising sea levels and flooding, he explained that the island had seen an encroachment on its beaches and land, especially in Santa Catarina, Malanza and Riberta Fonzo. For now, Santana was safe. But all these changes were forcing locals to move inland- abandoning their island homes, and making new ones near their mainland forest, where they built their homes propelled by meters-high sticks on foundations of rock.

A typical water-front home built on elevated sticks, on rocks in Santana.

A typical water-front home built on elevated sticks, on rocks in Santana.

A board explaining the construction of a government-led mitigation strategy in the flood-prone Malanza region of São Tomé,

A board explaining the construction of a government-led mitigation strategy in the flood-prone Malanza region of São Tomé,

A picture of the channel being built in Malanza.

A picture of the channel being built in Malanza.

But moving inland didn’t protect them from issues like deforestation, bush-fires, rising temperatures and mismatched seasons that caused lakes and mangroves to dry up for longer periods of time.

A photo showing the effects of deforestation and burning.

A photo showing the effects of deforestation and burning.

A dried-out lake

A dried-out lake

It is a simple truth, that who we are and the opportunities available to us, are largely an accident of geography. It matters where we are born, to whom we were born, and where our parents decided to raise us and send us to school. For many of us, we only need to connect to the internet, or turn on our televisions to hear the cry of the many well-meaning individuals and organizations – telling us that climate change is real, that global warming threatens us all, and that over-fishing and deforestation threatens the very life we deplete nature’s resources to secure.

A local fisherman, fishing by the reefs.

A local fisherman, fishing by the reefs.

Because there is an intricate link between climate changes, desirable living locations, food security and pollution, an accident of geography has put many at the fore-front of those who could lose everything by facing drought, famine, floods, hurricanes, forced migration and disease.

Truth be told, these are overwhelming problems for any people, especially an already impoverished populace.

Two children moments after enjoying an afternoon swim in a shallow lake

Two children moments after enjoying an afternoon swim in a shallow lake

The bad thing about climate change is that it affects us all. Climate change issues are global and it respects no boundaries. The good thing about Africans is that we are resilient and willing to adapt.

How do we stop this? Many say it’s too far gone to stop, that all we can do are adopt adaptation and mitigation measures to save what is left of this world for our children. What can YOU do? Well, spread the word, reuse-reduce-recycle, save power, choose renewable power, walk, change, eat wisely and choose sustainable foods. Plant a tree, grow a garden, get informed, get involved, inspire.

Listen, we all know this world isn’t perfect, but it is all the world we have left.

Photo Credit: Sea Turtle by Unknown Photographer – East coast of Sao Tome, 1998, courtesy of Liv Larsson. | Other photos belong to the writer.

Isio De-laVega Wanogho is a Nigerian supermodel, a multi-award winning media personality and an interior architect who is a creative-expressionist at her core. She uses words, wit and her paintings to tell stories that entertain, yet convey a deeper meaning. Follow her on Instagram @isiodelavega and visit her website: http://www.idds.pro to see her professional body of work.

36 Comments

  1. zayn

    October 9, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Hello Isio, wonderful write up. I wish I could write as well as you do.
    I am applying for my masters in Agricultural Economics and after reading this I almost changed my area of specialization to environmental economics, but I am not good at writing and would not be able to defend my reaserch interest accurately. I am going with agribusiness marketing and management and plan to somehow chip in environmental sustainability
    My point is I get where you are coming from, we need to preserve our environment, its all we’ve got.

    • Damisko

      October 10, 2015 at 12:08 am

      Isio, I’m simply amazed of how eloquent of a writer you are. You are such a captivating writer. Your writing and your topics is amzeballs. Climate change is something I’m extremely passionate about. When I talk about it, naijas tell me me dis girl, u talk like oyibo persin. I don’t only talk about it, im part of an organization that travel the world to teach awareness, educate people and come up with ideas that will be helpful in making it better. I’m appalled to say the least that Nigerians with the way they claim to be so educated are ignorant of one of the biggest problem facing Africa/Nigeria. Hopefully, we Africans/Nigerians can start taking action and not wait till it blows up heavily in our faces.

    • Eby

      October 10, 2015 at 4:37 pm

      hi Damisko i would really love to know more about the organization u mentioned as i’m in volunteering with organizarions that atr invoved with climate change awareness.thank you

  2. Phoebe

    October 9, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    This is really impressive coming from the Island of São Tomé and Príncipe. It is quite sad and upsetting that the average Nigerian could care less about the negative impacts of global rising temperatures and climate change.
    Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate variability and change because of multiple existing stresses and low adaptive capacity. By 2050 (if we be alive), studies have shown that between 350 million and 600 million people are projected to experience increased water stress due to climate change (na die be this ooo). Climate variability and change is projected to severely compromise agricultural production, including access to food, across Africa. Toward the end of the 21st century, projected sea level rise will likely affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations (exposing them to flood and displacement)..

    If the tiny nation of São Tomé and Príncipe with a population of about 200,000+ take preventive measures to reduce the effects of climate change, then we (Nigeria) need to WAKE UP!!!!

    Educative write up Isio.. Thank you.

  3. Udegbunam Chukwudi

    October 9, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    The link in the author box isn’t working oh!

    • Ephi

      October 9, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      It seems the link is pointing to an incorrect domain, I also got an error but I tried this: http://www.idds.pro
      and it worked

  4. I miss isio

    October 9, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    Isio I agree with all you have said about climate change but my main question this good afternoon is “why did you abandon us on Tuesdays bikonu?????” Won’t we see anymore of Isio knows better again??

  5. bruno

    October 9, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    no comments, why? I’m not surprised tho.

    if the article was about how to get a husband/boyfriend, the whole place will be filled with comments.

    isio I’m sure u are disappointed with ur readers. an important topic like this, nobody cared to comment or contribute. shameful.

    I feel bad for all these small island countries. I watched an oscar nominated documentary about the island country Maldives,the country is made up of groups of small islands, how global warming is making the ocean rise (melted glaciers) and the water is eating up their country small by small. They had to use huge stones to stop the water but still the ocean keeps rising and rising

    they have been begging big industrious countries like china to reduce their use of fossil fuels, have these countries reduced their use of fossil fuel, NO
    if u break it down u will realise that this is a whole cycle of craziness. these countries like china and japan and india are huge with massive populations. they need to create jobs for the people that’s why they keep building factories, factories that run on fossil fuel emitting co2 which is causing global warming.

    u dare not even tell a nigerian not to burn their refuse, u are looking for serious trouble.

    • TA

      October 10, 2015 at 10:57 am

      Not just burning refuse, even the way we handle industrial wastes that are toxic is quite pitiful. They are dumped in the open. Makes you wonder if we know anything about ecology or environmental conditions. The only organisation I know of that does anything for the climate is the one run by Jibunoh and oh NCF too.

  6. Somtoo

    October 9, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Very informative Isio. Made me actually enjoy reading information i would normally ignore or even consider relevant. Good one. Keeping your lessons and suggestions in mind

  7. Nne

    October 9, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Lovely article. I have an interest in environmental management and climate change and I really wish the Nigerian government both on a state and federal level would start talking the issues seriously. Nigeria has started experience some of its effect sef.

    Hi @bruno ..I am impressed with your comment

  8. Gap

    October 9, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Nice write up. Beauty and brain.

  9. The real D

    October 9, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    I like my fish, eating them that is. However, it is articles like this that makes one pause to think about where our meals come from. And what we can do to ensure that our children’s children I.e generations to come are also able to sustain themselves.
    But how do I tell a single mother of 6 who lives on a little over $20 a month about the dangers of her frying Akara with those firewood (deforestation) as that’s her only source of sustainability?
    You know in the past I was bothered by the sight of people going through refuse to pick plastic bottles or other materials to be recycled but I soon realized that although the environment which these people work is less than conducive, in their own little way they are helping protect the environment.
    The truth is the average Nigerian is not willing to pay to have their refuse picked up, they believe burning it themselves or having the government pick them up for free is their right. I tell people we want to be like America but we are not willing to pay the price like Americans. Where you actually pay to have your garbage picked up and you get special fees for certain items you are trying to dispose that are hazardous to the environment like laptops and tires, to mention a few. How do I know these? I actually did an online survey for a recycling business plan in Nigeria about 3 years ago and the general response was that people would rather take it to that area appointed refuse dump that someone woke up and started one day or burn it themselves rather than pay to have the waste picked up and properly disposed.
    I hope that in my own little way I am doing my best to help the environment.

    Apologies for the epistle!!!!

  10. Nonamespls

    October 9, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    It is really impressive that they have measures in place to curb overfishing and protecting sealife.
    Now tell me how was the food?

  11. Ephi

    October 9, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    It is such an important topic. People need to be educated about it.
    The average Nigerian either doesn’t know, doesn’t care or is simply just not interested; which is a big problem.

  12. japhet

    October 9, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Isio. Words alone can’t express my regards to you. Nice and creative.

  13. 'Diddie

    October 9, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    Very enlightening piece. Climate change is a threat and the sooner we start eliminating practices that encourage this issue the better
    I”m actually thinking of working on research topic that looks at climate change and its impact of the livelihood of those in the rural area….. your write-up has given me clues.Thanks

  14. Californiabawlee

    October 9, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Between climate change and induced earthquakes….I’m led to believe my industry is funded by the illuminati ?

  15. babygiwa

    October 9, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    We need to preserve our world, we don’t have any other place to go. It bothers me how uninterested our government and citizens are about climate change, folks should be sensitized and taught how to help preserve the environment.
    The earth serves us but we continue to indulge in habits that diminishes it. Sad shame.
    I enjoyed this article. Thank you Isio de la gbo gbo e ati versatile na?

  16. Cecilia

    October 9, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    I enjoy reading this article. Very educative. While this small island has laws in place to protect their environment, our country the giant of Africa is asleep over her environment and does not make laws /policies which are kept. What a shame.

  17. Tosin

    October 9, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    1. You’re an angel.
    2. That giant turtle photo is excellence 🙂
    3. Geography is indeed everything, sad that although we have great weather we are stuck indoors hiding from the truth and beauty out there…I wish to get out a bit more…habits hard to break…real soil, real plants, fresh air and beach give me life. And the sun. Well, the sun gives us all life. 😀

  18. arikeagbe

    October 9, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    Thank you Isio. People really need to get enlightened on this topic. The number of Nigerians I’ve met that think global warming is a farce is scary! We can all do something little to save the environment. Dispose of your trash responsibly. Do not use your generator longer than necessary. Do not waste water. Our collective little efforts can go a long way.

  19. Elizabeth Fifi

    October 9, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    I agree with bruno. When you sit down and break it down, it’s a cycle of craziness. I was so passionate like kilode about it in my Univerity days after listening to a seminar. To the extent I and my friend established an NGO and a club in Ibadan secondary schools campaigning up and down like craze, spending all our money on it but we coulnt sustain. The politician and government then were all about propaganda. They would come for the programs becos NTA Ibadan and BCOS was going to air it after that nothing. No shishi. Any time I look back Im glad ww tried our best and influenced some of the secondary school student to study enviromental science and I really hope that our goverment would start taking our future serious. Right now, it is as pathetic as it is appalling.
    Isio, well done for this. We need to read more about these
    But where are all Isio commenters, una no dey read this type?

  20. Larz

    October 9, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    Isios supporter prbly werent aware Part 2 wud be on so early. I assumed the story baout her holiday will be a weekly segment as before.

    Back to the topic. Isios topic is so real. It had me evaluate some of the things that werent exactly enviro-friendly. We all need to do better for future generations.

    PS: If Global warming does not kill us, I believe genetically modified might if we r not careful

  21. Pat

    October 9, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    Haha when it comes to serious matters we all disappear. We are a reflection of the socioeconomic situation in Naija. Isio, well-done for this educative piece.

  22. nikky

    October 9, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    The hardest part is creating awareness on the issue. Everyone can recycle, stop drinking bottled water. Boil, filter and use water bottles instead. Simple things things things help reduce the pollution destroying our environment.

  23. nnenne

    October 9, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    My own is that the Federal Government need to regulate the Engineers, who construct our roads.
    They usually grade a very wide area of road, knowing very well, that only the center gets coated with tar. The sides of the road is left graded, without tar, Bricks, grass or trees.
    When rain falls, flood erodes the entire place and we end up with huge gully erosions.

    Grade as much land as you will tar, grass and or plant trees to hold the soil. Do not remove weeds, trees, if you are not going to cover it with plants, grass, weeds, bricks, pavement etc.
    Create gutters or ways that water can run off nicely.
    This poor construction of road is more common in our rural areas.

    In my opinion. Instead of creating gullies in the name of road construction, leave the area naturally, at least people can farm, build on it.
    The question is not how many roads built but how many built well.

  24. cleo

    October 10, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Wow! !!! Very insightful article. Nigeria is blessed I might add. However, environmental care awareness is very very poor. It needs a serious campaign in Nigeria. And it saddens me that it is the lower class that suffer most for the action of the bourgeoisie. Not going Marxist here. I couldn’t find a better expression

  25. OmogeNaija

    October 10, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Global warming, we have not fully understood how large this monster is.
    And the responsibility is not just on government, it is on you and I as individuals, let us start by environmental friendly

  26. sera

    October 11, 2015 at 4:07 am

    Dear Aunty Isio, nice write up, am impressed, your articles take me into your world, I could imagine watching police separating fishermen and am thinking if it was naija the guy would probably ask for his own share of fish. I keep praying for our leaders and the entire populace, may God give us a change of heart; to love our neighbor as ourselves and live in peace unity and strength. Our coat of arms illustrate good vegetation and water body, not even petroleum but we have abandoned that instead of developing it. Imagine a country with agriculture, water, petroleum and hard working people.

  27. M&

    October 12, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Bringing down home a bit more…I went to home my village recently and the condition of the village was really appalling, gullies everywhere, roads impassable and the whole place turning back to bushes. When I was young, when we go home, I remember the town crier would go round with the gong announcing the day for cleaning up the village, the men were all required to turn up. I remember my Dad and other men going out to work on the roads to level them, cut the grasses around the houses and open spaces, and generally ensure the village was environmentally ok. Today, even the road to the (only) stream has turned to a bush. I guess the young men are no longer interested in all this, just looking for ways to build nice houses for their mothers and grandmothers amidst the bad environment, even their cars find it difficult to traverse the village. Yes the Government is not keen on building modern roads for us but we didn’t need the Government in those days to maintain the village. I usually say that there no slums in our villages (unlike in the cities), but going home now shows me that we’re gradually getting there, sadly!

  28. elsa

    October 14, 2015 at 8:09 am

    If every average Nigerian can segregate his/her waste, separate the biodegradable from the non-biodegradable. Put the plastics & bottles (glass) aside for possible reuse/recycle, tins and canisters apart, it will go a long way in helping the environment. We may have reduced pollution by 50%.
    We need recycling plants in this country. We have so much waste and we can generate energy from it. Just go to Aba, PH and Onitsha.
    Yes the Nigerian government is not so great on the environment, but i believe they are coming up. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) law is getting some level of attention now from organizations whose activities that can have significant impact on the environment. I pray it’s not going to be business as usual anymore. It is everybody’s responsibility to be an advocate of the environment, because we will be doing so for ourselves and for our children’s.
    Stop burning refuse, pay to get them disposed. Stop dumping them in the river, plastics take thousands of years to decompose. The fishes eat them (some choke on them), and those plastics come right back to us – it’s called bio-accumulation.
    Stop bush burning, it’s illegal. We need those trees with the amount of CO2 our cars and generators emit every single day! We are polluting the environment, depleting natural resources and the ozone layer.
    As part of our contribution to the environment, the company i work for planted 20 trees on World Environment Day (June 5th). Everybody wanted to be a part of it. It was fun!!!
    Another way to save the environment would be if these electronic/electrical wastes, such as laptops, phones, batteries, printers, ink toners and cartridges, etc. can be sent back to their manufacturers after expiration, let them dismantle them themselves and dispose appropriately, instead of being dumped at landfills like bio-degradable wastes.

    • Tosin

      October 14, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      You should be working in this area: you’re ahead of us, and it’s of growing importance with growing jobs too.

    • elsa

      October 15, 2015 at 4:14 pm

      I’m already working in this field. I am an environmentalist

  29. elsa

    October 15, 2015 at 7:37 am

    This is a great article. And coming from you , Isio, it’s great to know you are an environmentalist.
    If every average Nigerian can segregate his/her waste, separate the biodegradable from the non-biodegradable. Put the plastics & bottles (glass) aside for possible reuse/recycle, tins and canisters apart, it will go a long way in helping the environment. We may have reduced pollution by 50%.
    We need recycling plants in this country. We have so much waste and we can generate energy from it. Just go to Aba, PH and Onitsha.
    Yes the Nigerian government is not so great on the environment, but i believe they are coming up. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) law is getting some level of attention now from organizations whose activities that can have significant impact on the environment. I pray it’s not going to be business as usual anymore. It is everybody’s responsibility to be an advocate of the environment, because we will be doing so for ourselves and for our children’s.
    Stop burning refuse, pay to get them disposed. Stop dumping them in the river, plastics take thousands of years to decompose. The fishes eat them (some choke on them), and those plastics come right back to us – it’s called bio-accumulation.
    Stop bush burning, it’s illegal. We need those trees with the amount of CO2 our cars and generators emit every single day! We are polluting the environment, depleting natural resources and the ozone layer.
    As part of our contribution to the environment, the company i work for planted 20 trees on World Environment Day (June 5th). Everybody wanted to be a part of it. It was fun!!!
    Another way to save the environment would be if these electronic/electrical wastes, such as laptops, phones, batteries, printers, ink toners and cartridges, etc. can be sent back to their manufacturers after expiration, let them dismantle them themselves and dispose appropriately, instead of being dumped at landfills like bio-degradable wastes.

  30. Nikky

    October 26, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    This is the world we have, the Africa we own. I think a lot of awareness should be done about global warming, it starts with the little things around us, re cycle, re use, planting a tree. We all can do better by telling someone today how important this is. Thank you Isio for putting this up. We learn from the ” little island”

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