148th Inaugural Hart Advocates Environmental Stewardship To Safeguard Benthic Lives By Humphrey Ogu

A Professor of Benthic Ecology in the Department of Animal and Environmental Biology in the Faculty of Science, Aduabobo Hart, has called for environmental stewardship to safeguard the Niger Delta ecosystem from total extinction arising from human activities. Professor Hart made the call while delivering the 148th Inaugural Lecture at the Ebitimi Banigo Auditorium on Thursday, June 14, 2018.

Professor Hart, whose lecture was entitled: “The Unsung Heroes of our Time”, pointed out that the term benthic referred to something connected with or occurring right at the bottom of the water. “There are diverse habitats each with varying characteristics such as physic-chemical, biological and geological features,” she explained.

“Macrozoobenthos are the unsung heroes of our water bodies. We should appreciate their roles in societal development and protect their habitats. They endured a lot from human activities, but they still stand tall and strong, providing us with signals of looming danger that will befall humanity when we destroy the ecosystems upon which our lives depend,” she warned.

“Benthos diversity is several folds greater than Nigeria's human ethnic diversity, yet members of the former community live in peace. We really have to go back with humility and learn from these so-called “unintelligent,” but unsung cooperative heroes,” Professor Hart, who is Occupant of the Charles Bruce Powell Chair of Hydrobiology and Fisheries, observed.

“I have devoted a greater part of my research in studying baseline conditions and the relationships between human activities and macrozoobenthos of the Niger Delta,” she disclosed. Professor Hart added that in addition to highlighting some of her contributions to knowledge in her area of specialisation, the thrust of her research has been to draw attention to the ingenuity, creativity, resilience, intelligence and ecosystem services of macrozoobenthos.

Describing mud shrimps, amphipods, fiddler and sesamoid crabs as “unsung heroes,” Professor Hart noted that though they were erroneously regarded as unintelligent, these sea creatures construct their tubes and burrows in specific sand: clay/mud ratios with binding secretions that prevent their homes from collapsing as skilled 'architects'.

“I think man copied the technology of dredging from our heroic architects, civil, mechanical, and structural engineers of the benthic community,” she submitted.

Identifying deforestation, pollution and indiscriminate reclamation of shorelines as some of the challenges facing benthos in the Niger Delta, the Inaugural Lecturer decried the adverse effects of artisanal refineries and their attendant impact on the environment such as the soot that has enveloped the Niger Delta in recent times. Said Professor Hart: “I will leave the human health implications of soot to medical professionals. As a benthic ecologist, however, it is my obligation to advocate on behalf of these defenceless aquatic species and the unprotected benthos.”

Emphasising the need for the formation of a multi-disciplinary group to carry out more detailed research on the effects of illegal refining of petroleum products, locally known as 'kpo fire', Professor Hart called for enhanced regulation of the petroleum industry to forestall avoidable oil spillage that results in environmental pollution. “The government should immediately walk the talk by replacing 'kpo fire' with modular refineries that would provide employment for our people and safeguard the environment.  Oil spills from any source must be prevented and the environment adequately remediated when impacted,” she said.

 Calling for the establishment of a 'Molecular Based Laboratory' for DNA analysis and proper identification of organisms, Professor Hart stressed the urgent need to set up a Niger Delta Biodiversity Centre of Excellence, describing Integrated Coastal Zone Management as critical for the conversation of coastal ecosystems.

In his remarks, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ndowa Lale, commended the Lecturer for drawing attention to the destruction of the fragile ecosystem of the Niger Delta and recommending ways to remediate same. He decried the activities of illegal oil refiners that have contributed to the destruction of the ecosystem upon which ordinary folks depended for their livelihood for ages. “We must take the appropriate steps to safeguard our fragile environment. I am pleased that Professor Hart has drawn attention to this important issue that must be taken seriously by all stakeholders, especially relevant government agencies to prevent the looming environmental disaster,” the Vice-Chancellor said.

He announced that the 9th Valedictory Senate Session in honour of three retired Professors, including the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Research and Development, Professor Bene Willie Abbey, will hold on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. Professor Lale also announced that the 149th Inaugural Lecture entitled, “The Woman, Her Reproductive Tract and Microbes: The Normal and the Abnormal,” will be delivered on Thursday, June 28, 2018 by Professor Orikomaba Obunge of the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences in the College of Health Sciences. 

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