Coastal erosion threatens the existence of small-scale fishing communities
— As fishermen’s livelihoods come under threat
Popular fishing destination, Robertsport in Grand Cape Mount County, is at the brink of disappearance due to climate change that has caused a rise in sea level.
As a result, Armstrong Johnson, born and raised in the coastal city, considers the future of the city with uncertainty. He believes that the Atlantic Ocean could wipe out the communities in Robertsport City if nothing is done to control or save communities that are threatened by sea erosion.
Armstrong holds childhood memories of the Kru Town Community, one of the communities threatened by sea erosion. He recalls as a boy playing on a wide beach, running between concrete houses, and walking with friends on the streets in the Kru Town Community.
But with years between his boyhood and adulthood, a lot has changed in the Kru Town Community where he grew up. Buildings and streets he once saw including the football pitch he played on as a child have been swallowed up by the Atlantic Ocean. With the threat of disappearance of communities in the coastal city, residents like Armstrong believe that their community’s culture also faces a threat of disappearance.
Besides, shelters and livelihoods of residents are also threatened by the encroaching ocean, thus impacting the city’s economy which is mainly fisheries. The economy hits its lowest performance during the wet season of each year.
Small-scale fisheries employ most people in the coastal area and island in Liberia. An estimated 33,000, most of who are women, make their living from activities along the fish value chain. However, with severe impact on climate change on small fishing communities along the nation’s 350-mile coastline, Liberia could linger in winning the fight against unemployment and food security, especially since most of the Liberian population consume smoked or cured fish as their main source of animal protein.
“This time of the year, the sea level is high and rough, and the weather is bad too. Fishermen at this time miss their landing site and end up elsewhere because of the fog. With the fog, you barely see clearly. It puts us out of business because we do not go to sea regularly and our women do not dry their fish because the water floods the yard. What we all do during these times is to wait until the water dries up,” says fishermen Samuel Brown.
Brown also serves on the local leadership of the fishermen in the UpTown Community in Robertsport City. His leadership is yet to take action against the encroaching sea. He says that the situation is beyond their power to fight. “We have the manpower but we do not have that financial strength to purchase rocks to dump them into the sea that is far beyond our reach.”
Regardless of their inability to save their communities, fishermen across the city of Robertsport look out for one another through an emergency response team that they have formed. The team, according to Brown, is intended to ensure fishermen’s safety at sea, particularly during the wet season.
“We group ourselves to look after one another for safety purposes on the sea. If a member goes missing on the sea, we fill another member’s boat and go out searching for them, another thing is that we put our money together to get our fishing gears, like nets. This is how we are helping ourselves here,” Brown explained.
For Luisa Sumu, a fishmonger, life is not going as expected, since she migrated to the city of Robertsport. The mother of three migrated to the city in search of business opportunities, but six years after that adventure, Luisa experienced has been worse than she thought. She is coping with damages caused by the sea in recent months.
“The sea washed away my first home, leaving my children and me displaced for a while. I also lost some money, and starting all over is really difficult right now,” a tearful Luisa narrates.
She lives in a zinc shack that is about 5 minutes’ walk away from the Kru Town Beach. Even though she had acknowledged the dangers of the place of dwelling, migrating to another part of the city is a try that is far from accomplishing.
“It is really scary being close to the beach at this time. I am worried about family but we have no choice right now. This is the only place we could find after losing our homes. There is land here that no one is occupying right now. They are grassy but the owners prefer to see their land like that than to see someone on it. Nowhere is available right now,” she said.
Charles Sampson, Chairman of the Co-Management Authority (CMA) in Roberstport, a community-based organization collaborating with the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), explained that the national government is yet to act to save the city, despite his group flagging the threat of the ocean against the coastal city.
The organization also collaborates with NaFFA in managing the ocean’s resources and fighting against Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
“We have been calling on the national government to see whether they can come up to our aid in terms of erecting a coastal defense force to protect the coastal city from further erosion and to save our livelihood. With the CMA, we flag up the problem to NaFFA to begin engagement with the national government. This is a national issue that the CMA in Cape Mount cannot control,” said Sampson.
Sampson further added that the CMA keeps communities updated on the sea level, which is done periodically. “The community science, which is one of the steering committees, conducts scientific studies along the ocean. We look at fish monitoring, the wind and weather, and we look at the tide. Every now and then when we conduct a survey and share the findings with the communities and the World Bank which is sponsoring us,” he added.