At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, world leaders agreed to the goal of establishing networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2012. There is still a lot to be done to reach the target but progress has been made. In West Africa, Senegal and Guinea Bissau are two examples of countries that have made significant headway. Kate Eshelby reports.
The early morning sun shimmers on the sea, alive with the heavy breathing of hundreds of turtles. Paths weave in all directions through the sands of Poilao, where the female turtles have heaved their enormous, pregnant bodies during the night's cover, digging nests to lay their eggs before returning to the lapping waters. A rare sight--marine turtles are now extremely threatened.
During the past decades, humans have increased their abuse of the marine environment, seeing it as an endless expanse, with endless resources--and with less need of attention than the land we live on. Sadly this is far from the truth. We are fast depleting the sea, irresponsible fishing in particular is threatening many fish species with extinction. We are in grave danger of emptying the seas.
West Africa's coastline is among the world's most prolific, its sea is very nutrient-rich. Everyone chooses to come here to take advantage, leading to immense overfishing and a substantive need to protect the marine environment.
In 1996, the Bijagos islands, Africa's largest archipelago, off the coast of Guinea Bissau, became an MPA--classified by UNESCO as a biosphere, providing international recognition to its abundant, yet fragile, biodiversity. Last year the Senegalese government celebrated its creation of five more MPAs, and now, in collaboration with Worldwide Fund (WWF), the management plans have begun.
Both Senegal and Guinea Bissau are important mangrove habitats. Mangroves are one of the most vital, yet threatened of coastal ecosystems. They recycle nutrients and give protection--their destruction leaves coastal areas exposed to erosion and storm damage, increases salt intrusion and alters natural drainage.
Mangroves provide habitats for many species--those surrounding the Bijagos are home to manatees, hippos and thousands of bird and fish species.
"Mangrove loss is linked to decline in fish stocks. They offer a critical haven for fish, acting like a nursery. Large predators are unable to enter the mangroves, allowing fish to safely spawn, and young...