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Research Article

Ecosystem Cover Dynamics and its Implications in the Coastal Zone of Ondo State, Nigeria

A. Olajide, O.O. Popoola and K.V. Otokiti
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Background and Objective: Human actions threaten all of the Earth’s ecosystems. The resultant effect of human exploitation has left the ecosystem further degraded and the innate human dependence on its services less sustainable. Consequently, this study estimated the total land area for the ecosystems within the study area and assessed the level of degradation over a 17 years study period using historic satellite imageries. Materials and Methods: The historic satellite imageries were subjected to both land use/land cover classification and ecological classification using ArcGIS 10.3. The ecosystems found in the study area include the evergreen rainforest, littoral rainforest, swamp forest, woodland and grassland, Atlantic Ocean mangrove and water. Results: The result showed the total land area coverage of ecosystem (146,682 ha) and significant depletion of ecosystem in the study area, with the swamp forest being the largest ecosystem depleted in terms of land area (5,064 ha) at the study’s concluding year. In total, 2,822, 3,655, 6,805 and 7,521 ha of ecosystem land area coverage was depleted in year 2000, 2006, 2011 and 2016 respectively. Conclusion: With this, integrating ecosystem management into urban planning approaches would go a long way in improving the quality of people’s life and promoting the sustain ability of ecosystem services.

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A. Olajide, O.O. Popoola and K.V. Otokiti, 2020. Ecosystem Cover Dynamics and its Implications in the Coastal Zone of Ondo State, Nigeria. Ecologia, 10: 50-62.

DOI: 10.3923/ecologia.2020.50.62



The Nigerian coastal ecosystem particularly, the oil producing region has been and is still threatened by series of man-made activities such as, oil spills, pollution, site clearing, dredging, etc1. Globally, the region is ranked as one of the most polluted places2 and regarded to as the world’s oil pollution capital3. It could also be envisaged that, climate change manifestations coupled with natural disturbances such as; floods and coastal erosion4 may cumulatively affect the delicate balance of the ecosystem and compromise its ability to provide fundamental ecosystem services.

The ecosystem provide a range of services, many of which are of fundamental importance to human well-being, health, livelihood and survival5-7. Some of these services include provision of services such as food, fiber and fuel, genetic resources, biochemical, natural medicines, pharmaceuticals, ornamental resources and fresh water; regulating services which includes air-quality regulation, climate regulation, water regulation, natural hazard regulation, pest regulation, disease regulation, erosion regulation, water purification and waste treatment and pollination, cultural services which include cultural heritage, spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and tourism and aesthetic value, while supporting services include soil formation, nutrient cycling, primary production, water cycling and photosynthesis8. However, their ability to support humans is being threatened by the unrelenting and increasing demand of land for economic benefits and developmental purposes9, 10.

Several studies have been carried out on biophysical11,12 and economic valuation studies of ecosystem services13-16 with a view to drawing significant attention towards the importance of preserving the ecosystem. Nonetheless, global biodiversity continues to decline at unprecedented rates6. Galloping urbanization, coupled with the ever increasing world’s population which has been projected to exceed 2 billion by 2050 with sub-Saharan Africa contributing significantly to the figures17 is likely to further amplify degradation of the ecosystem and its services, which in turn would make human dependence on ecosystem services less sustainable.

Human actions have ensured that nearly all of the Earth’s ecosystems have now been intensely transformed18. There has been great conversion of lands to croplands between 1950 and 1980 than in the 150 years between 1700 and 1850. Between 1960 and 2000, reservoir storage capacity quadrupled and as a result, the amount of water stored behind large dams is estimated to be 3-6 times the amount of water flowing through rivers on one occasion19. Some 35% of mangroves were lost between 1985 and 2005 in countries where adequate data are available. There has been the destruction of over 20% of coral reefs while another 20% degraded in the last several decades. Of note, is that, more rapid changes in ecosystems are now taking place in developing countries compared to industrial countries7.

Ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss undermines ecosystem functioning and resilience and thus threaten the ability of ecosystems to continuously supply the flow of ecosystem services for present and future generations20. With the advent of climate change and ever increasing human consumption of resources, these threats are expected to become greater21. Biodiversity can no longer be treated as inexhaustible and free ‘goods’. The value of these services to society as well as the costs of their loss and degradation, need to be properly accounted for Costanza et al.5 and Blignaut and Moolman22. It is against this backdrop that this study estimated the total land area for the ecosystems within the study area and assessed the ecosystem cover dynamics over the years using historic satellite imageries spanning a period of 17 years.


Study area: Ilaje is a Local Government Area in Ondo State, Nigeria (Fig. 1). Its headquarters are in the town of Igbokoda. It is bounded by Okitipupa LGA, Ese-Odo LGA, Ogun Waterside LGA (Ogun State) and Atlantic Ocean in the North, East, West and South, respectively. The Local Government, which is one of the coastal regions in Nigeria, is reputed to have the longest shoreline in the nation, covering about 180 km and the largest Local Government Area in Ondo State (Fig. 2) with land area coverage23 of about 1,318 km2.

According to the last population census held in Nigeria (2006), its population was estimated24 to be 290,615. Most of its residents rely on fisheries for their daily livelihoods. It belongs to the ecosystem biome of ‘coastal’ which comprises of estuaries, seagrass/algae beds, coral reefs and the continental shelf in different proportion. The study was conducted in the study area between January and September, 2016.

Sources of data: Secondary source of data was used for this study. Information was gathered about activities within the study area, the ecosystems and biomes in the study area, identifying the various ecosystem services located along the Ilaje coastline and determining their locations with the use of historical satellite imageries which were obtained from the United States Geological Survey (Table 1).

Fig. 1:
Map showing Ondo State in the context of Nigeria
Source: Adapted from Google Map (2016)

Fig. 2:
Map showing Ilaje in the context of Ondo State
Source: Adapted from Google Map (2016)

Table 1:
Summary of data sources
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Table 2:
Label codes for ecosystem elements
Source: Author’s field work (2016)

A high quality spatially disaggregated global data was employed in the assessment of various ecosystems within the study area, which was overlaid on the Landsat imageries to conduct a temporal analysis regarding ecosystem change in the study area. This was obtainable by using ArcGIS 10.3. Information was also obtained from documented works, from journals, textbooks, conference proceedings and articles.

Land use/land cover classification (LULC): Before land cover classification, a 7-class classification system was designed with consideration of the land use properties of the study area as urban/built-up, residential, crop field, vegetable field, forest/trees, orchard, grass, water body and barren/sandy lands. The widely used supervised classification method, Maximum Likelihood25, was employed to detect the land cover types. According to the land use map of 1991 and the large-scale map of 2001, two sets of ground truthed samples for each image was created, one of which was used as training data set while, the other was used as the testing data set for accuracy assessment.

The LULC mapping for the area was based primarily on Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper (TM) of December 1990, Landsat 5 Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM) data of January 2000, Landsat 7 2006, 2011 and Landsat 8 for 2016. The images were geometrically corrected to Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinate system. The selection of images of the same season was to minimize the influence of seasonal variations on the result.

Ecosystem classification: Ecosystem data was acquired for the study area. A standardized, sequential, physical stratification of Africa into a set of unique physical environments with their associated biota was the basis of the geospatial ecosystems methodology. This approach was framed on the understanding that the biodiversity that occurs in any area is largely the result of a biotic response to physical environmental potential and local dynamic processes and that unique physical settings tend to give rise to unique assemblages of biodiversity. The components used to define and map ecosystems (illustrated for terrestrial ecosystems below) are shown in Table 2.

ArcGIS 10.3 was used to overlay the delineated feature class of the study area with ecosystem dataset and the Landsat imageries for years 1990, 2000, 2006, 2011 and 2016. Attributes were obtained for the various years displaying the different ecosystem biomes in the study area. The attribute information obtained through the pixels in the imageries were later used to calculate the area in hectares for the different biomes within the study area.


Land area covered by the ecosystem: The total land area covered by the ecosystem is 146682 ha. The area covered by each ecosystem used in this study is shown in Table 3.

A land area of 2169 ha was attributed to no data, that is about 1.48% of the total ecosystem area of 146682 ha contained no specific ecosystem. For consequent analysis, this area would not be valued because no distinct ecosystem is visible here. The ecosystems found in the study area include the evergreen rainforest, littoral rainforest, swamp forest, Western African mesic woodland and grassland, Atlantic Ocean mangrove and water.

The tropical rain forest occupies the 3rd largest ecosystem after the swamp forest and the Atlantic Ocean mangrove. In the study area, there are 2 types of tropical rain forest present-the evergreen rainforest and the littoral rainforest. The tropical rain forest occupied a total 10938 ha (7.45% of the total ecosystem area) of which the evergreen rainforest occupied a land area of 10802 ha (7.36% of the total ecosystem area). The littoral rainforest covered a land area of 136 ha (0.09% of the total ecosystem area). The second largest ecosystem in the study area is the Atlantic Ocean mangrove which occupies a land areas of 30044 ha (20.48% of the total ecosystem area).

Fig. 3:
Map showing land area covered by ecosystems (1990)
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Table 3:
Ecosystem land area
Source: Author’s field work (2016)

The largest part of the ecosystem is occupied by the swamp forest with a land area of 101193 ha (68.99% of the total ecosystem area). The Woodland and Grassland covers about 101 ha (0.07% of the total ecosystem area). Water as an ecosystem occupies a land area of 2237 ha (1.52% of the total ecosystem area). The existence of these ecosystems in the study area shows that it is a rich coastal environment that serves a lot of benefits to man and his well-being. From this analysis, it can be concluded that the coastal environment of Ilaje has many ecosystems that has served and is still serving a lot of benefits to the environment. The ecosystem cover map is shown in Fig. 3.

Ecosystem cover depleted: With respect to the depleted ecosystem cover, further analysis was conducted on the total ecosystem area and the total land area of ecosystem depleted between the year 2000, 2006, 2011 and 2016 were shown in Fig. 4-7, respectively. Table 4 summarizes the ecosystem area depleted each year in hectares and as an overall percentage of the total land area.

Evergreen rainforest: In the year 2000, 122 ha of the total ecosystem land area of 10802 ha were depleted. In 2006, the ecosystem land area depleted was 182 ha. The year 2011 also experienced an increase in the depletion of the evergreen rainforest to 203 ha. Finally, in 2016, 294 ha were found to be depleted due to human activities in the study area (Fig. 8). Services such as climate regulation, nutrient cycling, food, air purification are also lost in the process thereby reducing the benefits man derives directly and indirectly from them.

Fig. 4:
Map showing ecosystem depleted in 2000
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Fig. 5:
Map showing ecosystem depleted in 2006
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Fig. 6:
Map showing ecosystem depleted in 2011
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Fig. 7:
Map showing ecosystem depleted in 2016
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Fig. 8:
Chart showing evergreen rainforest ecosystem cover depletion from year 2000-2016
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Fig. 9:
Chart showing littoral rainforest ecosystem cover depletion from year 2000-2016
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Table 4:
Analysis of each ecosystem depleted
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Littoral rainforest: In the year 2000, 2006, 2011 and 2016, the ecosystem land area had the same land area for depletion. The land area depleted was 3 ha (Fig. 9). From this, it can be deduced that human exploitation leading to depletion did not affect the ecosystem area during the study years.

Fig. 10:
Chart showing swamp forest ecosystem cover depletion from year 2000-2016
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Fig. 11:
Chart showing woodland and grassland ecosystem cover depletion from year 2000-2016
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Hence, efforts towards conservation and preservation should be introduced and if existing, be improved upon.

The depletion of the total land area by 3 ha which has remained the same over the study period does not undermine the loss that was experienced in the base year which for this study year is the year 2000. The ecosystem services the littoral rainforest provides includes control of erosion, filtration of air pollutants including particulate matters, sedimentation, climate regulation, disturbance regulation, water regulation, water supply, erosion control, soil formation, nutrient cycling, waste treatment, food production, production of raw materials, genetic resources, recreation and cultural purposes which play vital roles in the functioning of the earth and on human well-being and should be sustainably utilized and managed.

Swamp forest: The swamp forest occupies the largest ecosystem in the total land area and has also experienced the highest loss or depletion also. Approximately 2363 ha was lost in year 2000. In the year 2006, the area of this ecosystem class that was lost was 3018 ha. In 2011, the total amount of the swamp forest that was lost totaled at 3801 ha. Finally, there was a recorded loss of 5064 ha in 2016 (Fig. 10).

Woodland and grassland: In the year 2000, 2 ha were lost. In 2006, 2011 and 2016, the ecosystem land area had the same land area for depletion. The land area depleted was 3 ha (Fig. 11). From this, it can be deduced that human exploitation leading to depletion did not affect the ecosystem area during the study years. Hence, efforts towards conservation and preservation should be introduced and if existing, be improved upon.

It is important to note that as the ecosystem depleted in the years 2000-2006, key benefits such as gas regulation, erosion control, waste treatment, pollination etc. are also lost while the preservation of the same ecosystem through years 2006-2016 ensure that the services are not totally lost through human exploitation.

Fig. 12:
Chart showing mangrove ecosystem cover depletion from year 2000-2016
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Fig. 13:
Chart showing water ecosystem cover depletion from year 2000-2016
Source: Authors’ field work (2016)

Mangrove: About 312 ha of the total land area of the Atlantic Ocean mangrove was lost in the year 2000. By year 2006, the ecosystem lost increased to 435 ha. In 2011, the total amount of this ecosystem which was lost further rose to 2055 ha (almost 5 times the value in 2006). A further increase in ecosystem depletion of about 2134 ha was recorded in 2016 (Fig. 12).

Mangroves occupy the second largest area of the total ecosystem found in Ilaje, hence, the values that is gotten from the depletion would also be high. Mangroves only offer 6 service functions yet these services quite important and are highly valued.

Water: Although water is one of the five basic needs of man, it does not prevent the inappropriate exploitation and use of this ecosystem that has led to the depletion in the ecosystem area and consequently a reduction in the benefits this ecosystem provides. In 2000, 11ha of the water body was depleted. In 2006, ecosystem loss was at 14 ha. Increase in human activities led to a further depletion of 20 ha in 2011, while in 2016, the total ecosystem land area lost was 23 ha of water body (Fig. 13).

The supply of water is an important provisioning ecosystem service and the result of this analysis shows that there has been a reduction in the land area covered by inland water over the years. Of the different categories of ecosystem services, the loss of provisioning services is felt most directly and immediately by the world’s poorest people (food production). The value of provisioning services is somewhat easier to quantify compared with other types of ecosystem services because there is often a market price for many of the goods supplied by ecosystems.


This study first established the environmental baseline of the study area which is Ilaje. Ilaje is a coastal town in Ondo State, Nigeria and it belongs to the ecosystem biome of ‘coastal’ which comprises of estuaries, seagrass/algae beds, coral reefs and the continental shelf in different proportion. These results revealed that, the coastal environment occupies a total of 146,682 ha of which 6 ecosystems were identified namely: Guineo-Congolian evergreen rainforest, Guineo-Congolian littoral rainforest, Antostema-Alstonia swamp forest, Western African mesic woodland and grassland, Atlantic Ocean mangrove and water. The Antostema-Alstonia swamp forest occupied the largest area (69% of the total land area) while the Guineo-Congolian littoral rainforest occupied the smallest area (about 0.09% of the total land area). Further study revealed that different ecosystems provide or function in different capacities. Some of the services that ecosystems provide are: Gas regulation, climate regulation, disturbance regulation, water regulation, water supply, erosion control, soil formation, nutrient cycling, waste treatment, pollination, biological control, habitat/refugia, food production, production of raw materials, genetic resources, recreation and cultural service8.

Over the 17 years from 2000-2016 the largest ecosystem depletion in the Landsat derived maps were observed in the swamp forest class, with a significant net loss of 5064 ha. The results also suggested that, 2134 ha of mangrove ecosystem class were lost over the study period. Apart from the carbon storage services provided by mangrove ecosystem26, depleting mangrove ecosystem class could further have a severe effect on the ability of the system to provide fisheries27-30, which contributes significantly to the economic development of the community. This is of great of importance to the people of Ilaje community because they rely mainly on fisheries in sustaining their daily livelihood.

Evidence of depletion was also observed in the evergreen rainforest ecosystem class. In total, 294 ha were lost over the study period. Knowing that the study area is likely to be severely affected by climate change and sea level rise4, further depletion of evergreen rainforest will likely increase coastal vulnerability to climate hazards. Over the 2000-2016 period, the depletion rate of the littoral rainforest was consistent all through (3 ha).

In 2000, 2 ha of woodland and grassland were lost. By 2016, it has declined further to 3 ha. The ecosystem class play a critical role in supporting the needs of the residents by providing various ecosystem services, which include the production of food and fibre, maintenance of genetic library (conservation), carbon sequestration and recreation31,32. Management options to prevent further depletion of woodland and grassland need to be incorporated into the region’s land use policy. Water-a defining feature of coastal zones also experienced a net loss of 23 ha over the study period. In response to the shortage of relatively well-drained land for development in the study area, many residents in the community engage in unregulated and uncontrolled land reclamation. This action has contributed significantly to the depletion of water body.

As urbanization expands, urban planners and policy makers need to consider how natural resources can be strategically developed and managed sustainably to meet the needs of urban populations and discourage indiscriminate allocation of land uses. In response, this study can help to raise awareness about the importance of preserving the ecosystems and serve as a powerful and essential communication tool to inform better and more balanced decisions regarding land use policies.

Further research might consider the monetary value of the depleted ecosystem that occurred over the research years.

Limitation: In ecosystem services studies, scale of analysis plays a critical role in the accuracy of the results. For instance, the scale of analysis often influences the estimates of ecosystem values and limits the type of ecosystem services possible to analyze33. Therefore, it is imperative to consider the effects of scales when developing possible ecosystem management interventions.

Spatial resolution of land cover data affects the results of any remote sensing analysis because, higher resolution provides more accurate information34. The spatial resolution of the geographic data is coarse. Thereby, leading to the problem of generalization. Having access to more quality data would improve the reliability of results generated in this study. Nevertheless, the results of this study is a useful starting point, it identifies the available ecosystems in the study area, highlights the relative importance of ecosystem services and maps the depletion of the identified ecosystem classes over the study period.

Recommendation: The study has been able to establish that haphazard development threatens the ecosystem functioning. Based on the study’s finding, the following are recommended:

•  A multi-disciplinary scientific research focused on ecosystem depletion linked with its consequences, particularly in a changing climate and conservation approaches should be encouraged at all levels
Ecosystem study and management should be introduced into secondary education curriculum
The Nigerian Government at all levels should raise awareness on the importance of ecosystem management and its associated benefits
Improvement in the welfare of the residents through provision of employment opportunities and better standard of living would help the ecosystem in delivering the wider objectives of sustainable development
Town planners should always evaluate the cost and benefit of allocating land uses on sensitive ecosystem which could yield more benefit to the human populace than the construction of buildings


This study maps and presents the ecosystem classes contained in Ilaje LGA and land area loss by each of the identified ecosystem class. Our results suggested that both swamp forest and mangrove degradation is manifested by a high level of dependence on the ecosystem classes as a means of livelihood.

Pertaining to all the identified ecosystem classes contained in the study area, the study concluded that further degradation of these ecosystem classes could diminish residents’ opportunities to enjoy ecosystem services. Consequently, The Nigerian Government should establish effective modalities to conserve the ecosystem. In addition, ecosystem management should be integrated into urban planning approaches. These will no doubt help in achieving the wider goals of sustainable development and improving the quality of people’s life.


The remote sensing methods adopted in this study further demonstrated that it can reliably facilitate temporal monitoring of ecosystem depletion.


The authors would like to thank the United States Geological Survey for providing geographic information data ( Additional thanks also go to the publication manager for waiving off the article processing cost, the editor and anonymous reviewers whose suggestions greatly improved the paper. We also thank Samuel Akinribido for his intellectual suggestions.

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