Cont’d from [Archives:1997/52/Reportage]

December 29 1997

Front Page Tar Balls Cover Tihama…
There are 2 organizations within the central government structure that has responsibility for the pollution. The first is the Public Corporation for Maritime Affairs, which, according to Law 11 of 1993, is the responsibility organ for addressing the problem. But, although Captain Saeed Yafee, Chairman, is very interested in helping and has authorized a plan for action, his hands are tied. “The law stipulating the formation of the organization and its structures has not been issued,” he explained. In other words, legally, he is not in business. Then there is the Environmental Protection Council (EPC). Actually, it has been Engineer Abdullah Abul-Futooh of the EPC who has mobilized efforts to address the problem. “But our job is limited to enhancing public awareness and raising interest,” he laments. At the local level, there are two parties that could be involved in addressing this problem. The first organization is a project funded by the Global Environmental Fund (GEF). Dr. Ali Du’aibil, who is Hodeidah-based, was not reachable. But Jamal Ahmed Rajaa was one of seven individuals who signed a two-page hand-written report dispatched on 24th of December at the urgings of the Yemen Times team. The second body is the local authorities in the region. Lt-Colonel Abdul-Raheem Abdullah Mahmood, Director of the Khokha District, and a number of civilian, police and military officials were already involved when Yemen Times arrived. Unfortunately, the local population was oblivious to the danger. In fact, the locals were collecting the tar balls and using them to fill in the holes and to hold up the patches on their huts. Fishermen, however, were not oblivious to the problem, as their fish catch became less and less bountiful. In addition, Khokha is an important tourist destination in Yemen, and this layer of tar definitely reduces the attraction. The cost of the damage to the Yemeni people is in the millions, and the authorities are unable to do anything. Nobody knows the name of the tanker that last dumped its oil waste in the area. To help control the situation in the future, the Public Corporation for Maritime Affairs is getting a speed boat next month. “This boat will be used for cleaning and for patrolling purposes. The corporation paid for the US$ 3 million boat from its own resources,” said Mr. Yafee.
A team of environmental Yemeni and foreign experts as well as local officials is now conducting a survey of the six areas most affected. These are: Anbara, Moharraq, Jasha, Abu Zahar, Heima, and Ghowairik near Mateena. Each one of these areas is divided by one to three lines called linetransicts. Each linetransict represents an area of 200 square meters. Soil specimens are then collected from a two-meter strip on both sides of the 50-meter long linetransict. A large number of tarballs were found in four of the six areas. The tarball density in these areas ranged from 5 to 56 tarballs per 200 sq.m. The tarball weight ranged from 200g to 4,200g, and an average of 804g. The general color of the beach has also been transformed into darker (black) shades. Yemen Times met two of the team’s experts to ascertain the extent of the pollution.
1) Mr. Tony Rouphael is a senior assistant marine expert in the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). He works for the Protection of the Red Sea – Yemen Project.
Q: What is the role of your team in investigating pollution? A: The main role of the GEF scientists by coming to Khokha is to train Yemeni scientists in methods of quantifying natural marine sources, including finding the abundance of living corals, the coverage of sea grass, and the distribution of mangroves. Another part of our role is to investigate the amount of coastal pollution.
Q: What kinds of pollution are there in the Khokha area? A: There is sea-based pollution in the form of illegal discharge of oil. The oil discharge is going to take much more time to clean. There is also land-originating pollution which includes plastics dumped close to towns and are blown to the beaches.
Q: What have you documented so far? A: We use linetransicts to survey the beach. We have been finding large numbers of tarballs. We still have to do more investigations. The situation is bad, especially for Khokha as a tourist resort. Tarballs and general rubbish badly affect the environment, which includes the marine organisms that may eat these pollutants. The major leaching of toxins from tarballs has bad effects on the environment. Tourists will refrain from coming back if they see that the shore is polluted.
Q: How can we stop the oil pollution? A: Ships must be prevented from discharging their waste in Yemeni waters.
2) Mr. Jamal Ahmed Rajaa is the national expert in coastal management working with the GEF. Q: What is the purpose of your visit to Al-Khokha? A: We came here as a group to survey the area and various eco-systems along the Khokha coastline. Our main task is to observe the coral cover, the sea grasses, and other eco-systems. We found large amounts of household rubbish and tarballs along the coast. This made us concentrate on this issue. Tarballs have harmful effects on marine life, especially through the toxins they release. This greatly affect the healthy growth of various eco-systems. We are now trying to measure the volume of tarballs along the coast. We found a good response from the local authorities. They are helping in cleaning the coast from rubbish and tarballs.
Q: Where do these tarballs come from? A: These tarballs are from the illegal discharge of oil from oil tankers passing in international shipping routes in the Red Sea. The relevant legislations should be enforced to deal with this problem. We need to minimize or even prevent any discharge of oil in the sea. The southern Red Sea is particularly badly affected.
Q: What are you doing about these harmful tarballs? A: As a temporary solution, we need to collect these tarballs by hand, and dispose of them appropriately. We’ll be implementing a cleaning program within the next few days, in cooperation with the central and local authorities. We aim to clean up the area of tarballs and household plastic rubbish.

By: Ismail Al-Ghabiry and Yousuf Sherif,Yemen Times.