In 2011 A photographer named Jerry Chidi visited a fishing community in Nigeria. Years later in 2016 Chidi returned to the same spot and was shocked with his findings “I left for some years and returned in 2016 and the village's fishing port was no longer there, all of the mangroves were not there, they were dead with no leaves. I was amazed, I sat there for hours just looking at them. I picked up my pen and I started to write”.
Chidi went on to write his own book Man and Mangroves. Through this project Chidi exposed himself to the impacts of man’s unsustainable actions on the mangrove ecosystems. In the book he visits many mangroves in different communities across Nigeria and he returns years later to document the damage to the mangrove ecosystem. He uses the images to compare the before and after to reveal the true extent to which people are harming the environment and how quickly it is happening.
“It became apparent to me that beyond creating a narrative about Man’s footprints on the environment and engaging in advocacy, I must also take practical steps to demonstrate that our relationship with the Mangrove environment should not just be that of exploitation but also that of restoration”.
This led Chidi to create his ShareYourself project Plant a Mangrove where Chidi along with volunteers collect and or purchase mangrove seedlings and plant them in various locations in need. Additionally through the Plant a Mangrove project, Chidi meets with community leaders and sensitizes them on the harmful and unsustainable practices that could adversely affect the mangroves, Chidi says that using the photographs from his book Man and Mangroves he is able to help get community leaders to recognize the issue at hand and to help save mangroves.
“Mangroves are under siege from oil pollution”
One of the major negative contributors to the destruction of mangroves is the oil industry in Nigeria. According to Chidi, 90% of the oil installations are very old, and need replacement, this leads to many oil spills that the oil companies simply ignore, and take no responsibility for. When the oil dries up in the rigs and they are no longer active, the oil companies will not properly decommission the rigs and just leave them there. The oil companies hardly face any punishments for their actions and they just proceed with their work whenever an incident occurs. Chidi says across Nigeria there have been around 5 - 8 oil spills every single day for the past two years.
The oil industry in Nigeria is also responsible for a lot of air pollution through their process of refining crude oil. The process of refining crude oil in Nigeria is very similar to other processes in other parts of the world: Two sections are linked by a very long pipe. The drum used for the boiling of the crude oil is about 15mm thick constructed by welders. The pipe linking the boiler and the collector drum is about 72 to 90 feet long and about 16mm thick. The drum for collection is 15mm thick with no lid. The length of the pipe is necessary to reduce the magnetic power of fuel and kerosene. The initial fire is started using mangrove wood called ‘Ngala’ or ‘Agala’ thereafter crude oil is used, using mangrove wood is yet another example of how the oil industry is destroying mangroves. Once the oil companies collect their fuel, kerosene, and diesel oil many of them dump their remaining waste in creeks, which harms fish and mangroves.
“Many of the oil companies burn their oil at night, in the morning you can touch any surface in the city and you will find soot on your fingers”
Another major issue within the oil industry is something that locals call a KPO-FIRE which is a fire incident that happens when there's a break in the fuel pipeline which also can cause a lot of oil pollution.
This pollution kills the fish and the mangrove, now these fishermen lose their livelihood”.
Mangroves are centers for a lot of wildlife in Nigeria, many of which are fish and oysters, because of this, fishing is a very large industry in Nigeria. When mangroves die many of the fish that rely on the mangroves die too which in turn negatively affects the livelihoods of people in these fishing communities.
“The people believe the fish in the river never get exhausted, they believe wood from the mangroves will never run out”.
Chidi emphasized that fishing and lumber industries in Nigeria are not sustainable, he stressed the importance of educating the community on the importance of preserving resources. “The mangrove ecosystem is like a savings account. You can’t keep withdrawing from it without depositing anything back. After many years what will happen with that account? The mangrove ecosystem is such an asset. We need to think of how to deposit back into that system. It starts with the people's consciousness and mindset”. Chidi proposed a solution in building oyster farms, they are not very expensive to build and they could provide jobs for members of the community.
Chidi was awarded the Climate Change Nature Based Solution Grant from ShareYourself, and on March 21st, Chidi along with a group of volunteers planted 500 mangrove seedlings in Azumini (Azumn), Rumuolumeni and in Rivers State.
When asked about the challenges that he faces while working on the Plant A Mangrove project, Chidi said that many communities struggle at first to cooperate. He says the people in the communities think that Chidi and his volunteers are making money through their work, and that is not the truth. To overcome these struggles Chidi uses his Man and Mangrove book as evidence.
“When the government doesn’t do things, people don’t care. Education needs to start with the government, We don’t need to make new laws, we need to enforce them. We need to make people comply. That will change the people’s mindset”.
Chidi explained another challenge, community leadership. Leaders need to step up to oil companies and begin enforcing rules and fines, and the government needs to inspect and decommission oil rigs. “I’ve started distributing my book to leaders already. It all starts with a conversation, and photos help those conversations”.
“Hope Grows Where Trees Grow”
As for the future of his project, Chidi says that his ultimate goal is to mobilize thousands of individuals to become mangrove planters; to bring a culture of mangrove ecosystem restoration to the grassroots level. When asked how the ShareYourself community can help with his project, he explained that donations either through the ShareYourself platform or on GofundMe would go a long way.
“Plant a Mangrove project would not have taken off without the sys grant”