Frequent alteration in land cover often leads to decreased stability of ecosystems which can also increase the vulnerability of rural communities to externalities of environmental change. This study carried out in parts of the coast of southwestern Nigeria utilized topographic base maps and two-time Landsat TM imageries to assess the trend in land cover changes and ecosystems degradation for the three time periods 1965, 1986 and 2001. Remote sensing, geographic information systems and landscape pattern analysis were employed for data processing and analysis. The focus of the analysis was on land cover change, land degradation, and changes in landscape pattern resulting from interplay of natural and anthropogenic drivers.
The results show increased trend in human-induced land cover change with concomitant severe negative impacts on ecosystems and livelihoods. About 98,000ha (30% of the area) was seriously degraded as at 2001. About 33,000ha (10%) was under permanent saline water inundation with about 21 communities already dislocated. Loss of fragile ecosystems including marshland (from 7.7% in 1965 to 1% in 2001) and mangrove (from 14.6% in 1965 to 3.1% in 2001) was intense, while over 300 ponds/small lakes which are important for the local fishing economy have disappeared. About eighteen communities were also dislocated by erosion in a section around the southeastern parts of the coastline. Landscape metrics generated, suggested increased ecosystems perturbation and landscape fragmentation. The paper also discussed the implications of these rapid changes for ecosystems stability, food security and sustainable rural livelihoods in the area.