TANZANIAN environmental experts have made history after successfully formulating Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) maps that will be used in case of major oil spills.
The Western Indian Ocean Maritime Highway Development (WIOMHP) project local focal point and also senior environmental officer of the National Environment Management Council, Ms Rose Sallema Mtui, said that the maps were indeed a great achievement.
"The completion of mapping means that on the event of a major oil spill, prime areas that are of big value to the nation will be given priority in protecting them and these include coral reef areas, islands, tourist hotels, beaches, mangroves and sea grass beds," she explained.
Ms Mtui said that the mapping was a good starting point for the country because all that was now needed was to keep updating and incorporating new data and any other changes.
She said that the mapping was part of the capacity building component of the WIOMHP, but it was the work of local experts that developed both the ecosystem valuation methodology and ESA maps under the supervision and coordination of the National Environmental Management Council and the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority.
"This work was led by Captain Chiragi of SUMATRA and me. Local experts deserve a pat on the back because much as we received guidance from regional experts, the rest were our efforts," she said. Ms Mtui said that efforts of developing ESAs started as far back as 2009 under the Belgian Technical Cooperation that supported phase one but because of lack of funds, phase two never took off and the project was abandoned.
Another initiative was done by WWF which covered marine resources and extractive areas for oil and gas in general and wasn't classified as tactical, strategic and operational. Other developmental activities such as oil and gas exploration and extraction has been done by different oil companies to develop maps based on their areas of activity like the case of Mtwara.
'The maps that have been created are classified as tactical, strategic and operational covering the whole coastal and marine areas of the country in case of spill incidence," she said. The environmental experts said that what was now needed was to extensively distribute the maps to stakeholders for valuation before using them.
SUMATRA Marine Inspector and Monitoring Officer, Edson Chalamilla said that the completion of the mapping was a blessing particularly in his line of work, saying that it complements the prevention process. Eng. Chalamilla said that as the country edges towards the establishment of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, it was a prerequisite that ESA maps were in place as well as the right equipment and technologies of combating spills.
"Taking into account that Tanzania has signed a number of international maritime conventions and for our own safety, we have invested into the sector appropriately, one cannot sleep, the world simply doesn't allow us to sleep," he said.He revealed that sometime in September, this year, SUMATRA would be conducting an oil spill drill where the marine regulator would showcase their ability to control the spill with minimal damage with the assistance of the mapping.