Man­grove pro­tec­tion key to sur­vival for Sene­galese com­mu­nity

All th­ese species are vic­tims of the dis­ap­pear­ance of the man­grove

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

JOAL, Sene­gal: Pel­i­cans, flamin­gos, mon­keys and even hye­nas are un­der threat in Sene­gal along with the liveli­hoods of the lo­cal peo­ple as thick clus­ters of man­groves are dis­ap­pear­ing. And it seems that not even an an­ces­tral spirit can save them. The pro­tected ma­rine area (AMP) of Joal in western Sene­gal, just to the north of the Gam­bia, is home to an in­cred­i­bly rich bio­di­ver­sity. The hardy man­grove shrubs thrive in salty water, thick mud and hot, hu­mid con­di­tions that would kill most other plants. Part of Sene­gal’s peace­ful Pe­tite Cote, Joal’s man­groves are be­ing eroded by a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors, in­clud­ing global warm­ing, de­for­esta­tion, pub­lic works, oys­ter and clam fish­ing, sali­na­tion of the fresh water river and drought.

All along the riverbed, great swathes of sandy dunes have ap­peared in place of the once suf­fo­cat­ing canopy of man­groves. “The empty spa­ces are ar­eas where the man­grove has dis­ap­peared,” said Ab­doulaye Sagna, a man­ager at the Joal AMP. Man­groves are not just tough sur­vivors. Sci­en­tists now be­lieve the swamps are hugely im­por­tant to the well-be­ing of the planet as a whole. Sene­gal’s man­grove sys­tem sup­ports a vast range of species and or­gan­isms. Baobab trees and aca­cia shrubs grow in be­tween the tan­gled roots, which are a habi­tat for mol­luscs, crabs and in­sects.

An­i­mals such as mon­keys and hye­nas also live in the man­groves, and flamin­gos, pel­i­cans, terns, herons and other types of birds nest in the trees. “All th­ese species are vic­tims of the dis­ap­pear­ance of the man­grove,” added Sagna. The pro­tected area may be vast but out­side of the AMP, the man­grove is re­ced­ing, ac­cord­ing to Ab­dou Karim Sall, a mem­ber of the Joal AMP’s or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee.

‘De­graded’ man­groves

But he in­sists that the es­tab­lish­ment of the 174-square-kilo­me­tre (67-square-mile) pro­tected area has had a pos­i­tive ef­fect on safe­guard­ing the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment. “There was noth­ing here, no man­groves, but from 2009 we started re­for­est­ing,” said Sall. “In vil­lages not cov­ered by the AMP, the man­grove is more de­graded. We fear it will dis­ap­pear in cer­tain ar­eas where en­tire hectares have been cut down.” De­spite the re­for­esta­tion pol­icy, Sene­gal is los­ing much of its man­groves, not least to those look­ing for fire­wood and con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als.

“Sene­gal has lost 40 per­cent of its man­groves since the 1970s,” said ecol­o­gist Haidar El Ali, a for­mer min­is­ter of the en­vi­ron­ment. As the man­groves re­cede, it is be­com­ing harder to find oys­ters and clams, which are among the main­stays of the lo­cal econ­omy. “Be­fore, all you needed to do was go 10 me­tres (32 feet) into the river to find oys­ters and clams. But now, you have to go much fur­ther,” com­plained Marie-Madeleine Diouf, head of a group of seafood traders in Joal. “We can’t find the quan­tity we want and de­mand is in­creas­ing.”

Other than the abun­dant mol­lusc fish­ing, Joal-fa­mous for be­ing the birth­place of Sene­gal’s first pres­i­dent, Leopold Sedar Sengho­ris also known for tourism and lo­cal hand­i­crafts, based on clam shells and sea snails found at the is­land of Fa­diouth, which is linked to Joal by a bridge.

But that has at­tracted many un­scrupu­lous out­siders, and not even a lo­cal spirit in the deeply su­per­sti­tious so­ci­ety can keep them from ex­ploit­ing the man­groves. “Joal’s an­ces­tral spirit, Mama Ngueth, the town’s pro­tec­tor, banned the cut­ting down of man­groves,” said Sall. “Ev­ery­one re­spected that ban and be­lief in that spirit was a fac­tor in the con­ser­va­tion of the man­grove. “But now there are a lot of mi­grants in Joal who couldn’t care less about this spirit, or the con­ser­va­tion of the man­grove.” One so­lu­tion has been to build an oys­ter farm in Joal to boost pro­duc­tion. Yet an­other is to try to pro­tect young mol­luscs.

Oys­ter farmer Leopold Ndong wields a knife to cut oys­ters from the in­ter­twined man­grove roots to “plant” them in mud. “Th­ese are spat, baby oys­ters... Af­ter a year they will be ma­ture,” he said. Ac­cord­ing to Diouf, the fight to pre­serve the man­groves is not a for­lorn one and is worth the ef­fort. “We have to re­plant ev­ery day be­cause peo­ple keep cut­ting (down man­groves),” she said. “Peo­ple will keep cut­ting, and we’ll keep re­plant­ing.”

—AFP pho­tos

JOAL-FADIOUT, Sene­gal: Ab­doulaye Sagna, a man­ager of the Pro­tected Ma­rine Area (AMP) of Joal ges­tures while stand­ing on the limit of the man­grove.

This gen­eral view shows a por­tion of the man­grove field of Joal.

Farm­ers work in an oys­ter cul­ti­va­tion field in the man­grove of Joal.

A gen­eral view of the man­grove field of Joal.

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