Cadmus

The Future of the Atlantic and the Role of Africa in International Development

2. Energy and Environment

(a) The Underlying Natural Resources & their Function within the South Atlantic

Anitra Thorhaug

The South Atlantic is one of the world’s largest water bodies containing the second largest global ecosystem. The total Atlantic Ocean (106.4 million km2) covers approximately 20% of the earth’s surface and is second in size to the Pacific, but its terrestrial drainage is 4 times greater, creating a much greater effect of terrestrial activities (pollutants and soil loss) on Atlantic estuaries. The South Atlantic’s deep waters and surface equatorial waters both affect the circulation and heat of the North Atlantic and its nations. The South Atlantic is the second youngest ocean existing since 130 million years ago when Africa’s tectonic plate pulled away from South America’s plate. The South Atlantic’s surface circulation includes water moving westward from the Bight of Benin toward the South American coast where one portion circulates northwestward through the Caribbean Sea while a second portion flows westward to the Guyanese/Brazilian coasts turning southward toward Argentina. At the far south (below 60 degrees South), this water meets the Antarctic surface current, circulating around the Antarctic continent. A deep water current of far greater volume circulates from the North Atlantic Ocean sinking from surface waters near Iceland and Norway and flows to the South Atlantic, taking multiple centuries to pass from north to south Atlantic. The net surface heat transport northward replaces this sinking water from the northern Atlantic Ocean the heat of which keeps Europe temperate along with heat from the Gulf Stream current passing from mid-Atlantic through the Caribbean to Europe.1

Enormous migrations of human populations are well-documented to presently be occurring on the East Atlantic side from Central Africa northward to Morocco and Europe and also southward toward South Africa. The migration takes place supposedly due to degrading natural resources which were previously sustaining these populations. The intense extraction of resources and industrial development in the African Atlantic nations do not appear to be adequately solving the needs of those in extreme poverty, despite the overall increase in GDP due to extractive resources.

(b) Recommendations

  1. No factory fishing either inside or outside the territorially limited waters of the Central and Southern Atlantic region.
  2. Forests must be sustained throughout the South Atlantic and Caribbean regions and reforestation must occur on marginal areas decimated previously. Ground cover plants must be placed on degraded areas (especially along river and creek edges where forests have been removed) to stem soil erosion and turbidity entering the estuaries from upland. A variety of soil enhancement techniques must be used to enrich and retain the soil.
  3. Need for substantial national and local work on cleansing effluents of all types so that only clean water enters rivers and coasts. This is critical for regaining sustainability of marine fisheries and biodiversity of estuarine and marine ecosystems.
  4. Excellent planning and assessment for sustainability with detailed calculations for both catching fisheries and breeding fish must be created nationally for introducing catch limits to national local fish industry and artisanal fisheries industries or for selling fishing rights to non-national corporations.
  5. Industries and infrastructure developing shorelines and rivers for petroleum and other extractive products must respect the vegetation of habitat and fisheries.
  6. Poverty, pervasive in the east and west south Atlantic, needs microenterprise rather than simple microfinance. Major efforts to train villagers should occur throughout these regions (excellent success story is Burkina Faso). Microenterprise poverty alleviation must work toward self-sufficiency and excess profit spread should assist others in poverty, replacing the present donor-dependent attitude. Forest industries must be facilitated by producing sustainable forest products and not turning forests into agricultural lands.
  7. Fresh water security is required for agricultural and human consumption, especially in the eastern South Atlantic.


1 W. Broecker,The Great Ocean Conveyor, Discovering the Trigger for Abrupt Climate Change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).


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