Magazine article Geographical

Roots of Success: By Replanting Their Mangrove Forests, Residents of Senegal's Spectacular Sine-Saloum Delta Have Found a More Sustainable Way to Harness Their Natural Resources

Magazine article Geographical

Roots of Success: By Replanting Their Mangrove Forests, Residents of Senegal's Spectacular Sine-Saloum Delta Have Found a More Sustainable Way to Harness Their Natural Resources

Article excerpt

As the mid-morning sun beats down with an ever-increasing fierceness, Youba Fonko's wooden pirogue, a long, narrow boat, pulls up at the wooden pier at Djirnda. Here, in the heart of Senegal's Sine-Saloum Delta, Tuesday means market day.

Hoping for a boat ride to Foundiougne, the nearest town, women in vibrant dresses and headscarves sashay toward the water, each with a colourful plastic bucket of produce balanced on their head. Below the village, a pair of skinny cows graze nonchalantly on seaweed.

Fonko may offer a couple of friends a lift on his return to Foundiougne, but he's not in Djirnda to transport goods or local residents. The warden of the recently created Gandoul Marine Protected Area is here to check on oysters.

Joined by a couple of well-grizzled village elders, Fonko sets off toward a nearby network of local bolongs (creeks). Beside the wooden vessel, a tangled mass of mangrove roots crowds the increasingly narrow waterways. The putt-putting of the pirogue's outboard motor disturbs egrets and Goliath herons, which take to the air awkwardly, squawking in alarm.

Eventually the men arrive beside a rough framework of wooden poles, the top of which is barely visible above the placid surface of the bolong. Between the poles, suspended necklace-like in the saline water, are hundreds upon hundreds of oysters. A short distance from their farmed counterparts, a few wild oysters cling to the nearest mangroves, knobbly white growths on the dark, finger-like roots.

Following a careful inspection, Fonko pronounces himself satisfied with this month's oyster growth. 'They are doing very well,' he says. 'In the past, local villagers would harvest wild oysters clinging to mangroves by simply hacking away at the roots, killing the tree. Employing this garland system means we have boosted the oyster crop. But, more importantly, we have also protected the mangroves.'

PARADISE IMPERILLED

Situated just north of the Gambian border, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Sine-Saloum Delta sits at the estuary of two rivers - the Sine and the Saloum. Thanks, in part, to the humble mangrove tree, it is one of West Africa's ecological marvels.

From the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the Sine-Saloum's mangrove forest stretches for 250 square miles. Impenetrable vegetation on a deep bed of silt, the roots of this forest support huge colonies of wild oysters. And in the midst of these long-legged trees, where access can only be gained by wooden pirogue, live coral-coloured flamingos, pelicans, otters and even the odd manatee. Sand islands are home to monkeys and hyenas, the surrounding water teems with fish.

In the Sine-Saloum Delta, where the majority of the population engages in fishing and agriculture, more than 100,000 people depend on mangroves, either directly on indirectly, for their livelihoods. But a combination of human and climatic factors have recently seen these coastal forests hugely degraded.

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'Over the last half century mangroves have disappeared from more than a quarter of the delta,' says Pape Diomaye Thiare, a communications and media coordinator for Wetlands International Africa (WIA), the African arm of a global, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation and restoration of wetlands. 'Successive cycles of drought, as well as unsustainable firewood and timber harvesting and road construction, have all taken their toll.'

PIVOTAL PLANT

A boundary zone between land and ocean, coastal mangrove forests are some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. Connecting people with the sea, they provide millions with food, clean water, raw materials and protection against the impact of climate change, which includes storms and rising sea levels. They can absorb up to five times more carbon than terrestrial forests.

Within the incredibly complex Sine-Saloum ecosystem, mangroves stop soil from being washed out to sea, feed and nurture schools of young fish, provide shelter for myriad oyster colonies, and filter salt from the water. …

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