Mangrove restoration and protection is a win-win investment for wildlife and the climate
Gabon is a true Eden of Africa, hosting one of the oldest human settlements on Earth and a full array of iconic African wildlife. Gabon’s coastal waters and marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is biologically and economically important, yet has received little investment for development of sustainable management.
Mangroves can store three to four times more carbon on an area basis than most terrestrial forests. Not only that, mangroves store soil carbon for centuries to millennia. In Gabon, a true Eden of Africa, Gabon’s ocean waters and its pristine forests make up one of the most spectacular and environmentally intact coastlines in the world. It is also one where mangroves abound.
And, as talks kick off at this year’s UN Climate negotiations in Poland, N4C urges countries to remember that avoiding dangerous climate change requires action on natural climate solutions, alongside efforts on energy, industry and transport. To deliver on the Paris agreement, we need a transition on land akin to the ‘energy transition looking at all ‘natural climate solutions.’
Gabon’s coastal waters and marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is biologically and economically important yet has received little investment for development of sustainable management. We know that Gabon has the highest density of leatherback turtle nesting sites worldwide, Gabon’s coast is an important seasonal breeding and calving ground for humpback whales, and its waters support 5 IUCN red-listed whale and dolphin species and over 25 species of sharks and rays. Commercial fishing and wildlife tourism (humpback whales, turtle nesting, and sport-fishing) are important natural resource uses with considerable potential for contributing to the national economy.
Until recently, only one marine protected area existed; Mayumba National Park on Gabon’s southern coast, with 900 km2 of protected coastal waters. With technical assistance from WCS, Gabon has expanded the marine protected areas to 24% of the marine EEZ, and community and commercial fishing zones have been delimited, making Gabon the only country in the region to zone its entire marine EEZ. A large network of new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) was created in Gabon in 2017. These include a prime mangrove forest, which is located in the delta of Ogooué River.
The WCS Gabon program and ANPN (Gabon’s National Parks Agency) are studying the impacts of MPAs while documenting the marine life in Cap Lopez Marine Park and Aquatic Reserve of Ogooué Delta using a range of approaches: collecting catch-related data and using scuba, free diving, baited video units, and underwater drones for in-water studies. They are documenting the behaviors and interactions of particularly sensitive species such as sharks, rays, groupers, turtles, and marine mammals.
Of particular focus are ghost nets, which are fishing nets that have been lost and abandoned in the water. Sometimes fishers lose their nets and, and although they are no longer being hauled, they are still able to catch and kill fish, turtles, and dolphins. Using divers and drones, the WCS Gabon program hopes to find and remove these lost, but deadly nets in Gabon’s waters.
WCS Gabon will soon receive a Remotely Operated underwater Vehicle (ROV) to help study the area. The Gabon team are hoping that they can use ROVs inside and outside the mangrove forest to find these nets, which they can remove. Protecting wildlife and landscapes are all part of the climate equation. Resilient forests, healthy mangroves, abundant marine reserves and a healthy local economy are all interdependent.