Ablaye Marone makes a living from the mangroves in western Senegal’s Saloum Delta. This area is rich in biodiversity, with some 2,000 species of fish, molluscs, and crustaceans living among the roots and mud of the mangroves, with trees and shrubs growing in tidal, coastal swamps.
The maze of tributaries and river islands occupies 146,000 hectares across the delta, and is home to hundreds of thousands of people who mostly make their living from the mangroves. But their livelihoods are at risk because of climate change and human exploitation.
Mr. Marone works as a volunteer guide and ranger in the national park, which covers 76,000 hectares.
Mr. Marone explains: “We make a living only from mangroves.… Aside from activities as a guard, I place beehives in the mangroves to collect honey. I make a lot of money doing this [and] that allows me to make ends meet. If there were no more mangroves, there would be no more bees.”
The mangroves also provide essential revenue for women. Adjarata Diouf lives in the village of Bagadadji. She says the mangroves are a great place for fish and shellfish, and she makes a significant income from harvesting oysters.
Salt extraction and eco-tourism are also important sources of income.
But some of the ways people make a living from the mangroves cause irreversible damage. Some methods of collecting oysters and other molluscs involve cutting underwater roots, while mangrove branches are also chopped down for fuel and construction material.
It is not only local residents who damage the mangroves, but citizens from other parts of Senegal, as well as Niger, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau.
As mangroves disappear, livelihood opportunities dwindle.
Mrs. Diouf explains: “Before, each woman used to gather up to 10 kilos of seafood every time we went out in our boat. But now, it’s all we can do to collect five kilos. Our revenues have fallen dramatically.”
The loss of mangroves is leading to salinization of fresh water, contaminating soil and preventing anything from growing. The resulting loss of agricultural productivity—particularly of rice—undermines food security.
Replanting schemes are seeking to restore the mangrove forest. One program in Saloum Delta has planted 79 million trees over nearly 8,000 hectares, and is mainly funded by 10 large multinational companies.
However, a French academic is warning that this newly-planted area is controlled by project donors, and local harvesters do not have access to the area. Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem has spent 35 years studying mangrove ecosystems. She says the project agreement merely offers local residents the hope that, in the future, their grandchildren can have access to the area to harvest shellfish, build beehives, or conduct other activities.
Local residents are determined to keep the ecosystem thriving long into the future, whether they support the involvement of multinational corporations or not.
Ablaye Marone and his brother Mamadou participated in a small-scale reforestation project in their village of Bagadadji and three nearby villages. The project added five hectares of mangrove cover around each of the four villages, for a total of 20 new hectares.
Mamadou Marone says: “We are aware of the effects of climate change on our lives. When we were children, the mangrove was much bigger. It has drastically reduced. As a result, some species of fish and crustaceans have disappeared.”
The small-scale project was carried out in partnership with the National Parks Service, the region’s environment agency, and Wetlands International, a non-profit based in the Netherlands.
Nicolas Gomis is a lieutenant in the National Parks Service. He says, “It is our duty to somehow conserve the mangrove forest, to keep it for future generations.… The local population is very pleased about the mangrove restoration projects.”
This story was adapted from an article titled “Jury still out on huge mangrove regeneration project in Senegal,” published by IRIN. To read the full article, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/feature/2017/12/18/jury-still-out-huge-mangrove-regeneration-project-senegal