Bringing back the magic of mangroves to create a sustainable tourism hub in The Gambia.
Current habitat status
Mangrove forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world, thought to be disappearing more quickly than inland tropical rainforests. Today, less than half the world’s original mangrove forest cover remains.
The Gambia has around 31,000ha of mangrove swamp within the protected areas of Baobolong, Niumi, Tanbi Wetland complex and Tanji bird reserve, but is thought to have lost over half of its original area, particularly the older ´high mangrove´ areas.
The area at the bird-watching hub of Kotu Creek – in which over 350 bird species have been recorded – was severely damaged by a dieback event some years ago.
Nationally, mangroves are also under threat from deforestation through unsustainable forestry, and dams which change water flow and therefore salinity. They are also particularly vulnerable to climate change. As temperatures and rain patterns change, larger tide volumes combined with higher soil salinity have deteriorated swamps across The Gambia and neighbouring countries.
Causes of the Kotu Creek dieback incident are thought to be linked to the dropping of raw sewage into the waterway by local sewage works, and the dumping of detritus and pollution from the tourist industry.
With offshore reefs degraded and many coastal mangroves gone, there is also nothing to protect this area from coastal erosion caused by rising sea levels. This has led to the gradual deposition of sand in the area, blocking the regular tidal flow sometimes for weeks. Upriver, soil from deforested river banks washes down and clogs the River Gambia´s arteries, exacerbating pollution incidents.
Mangroves protect against weather shocks and other climate-related adversities. Their roots dissipate energy from storm surges, shielding local communities – and themselves – against floods. They contribute to cooling micro-climatic conditions in areas of often high temperatures. Their vegetation retains sediments and filters run-off water, preventing soil erosion and siltation, also removing pollutants before they enter the sea.
In the soil around their roots, they are capable of storing up to 5x more carbon per hectare than tropical rainforests.
As leaf letter sinks, it becomes the basis for a detritus food web which forms the base for one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems. The invertebrates that inhabit the sludge feed West African Fiddler Crabs, Atlantic Mudskippers, and many fish species, which in turn nourish West Africa Nile Monitor Lizards, Nile Crocodile, African Manatee, Green Vervets, Red Colobus Monkeys, Gambian Mongoose and African Otters.
Many bird species are strongly associated with mangrove habitats, including African Finfoot, Blue Paradise Flycatcher, White-backed Night Heron, Pel´s Fishing Owl, Greater Painted-snipe, African Fish Eagle, Goliath Heron, and several Bee-eater and Kingfisher species.
Economically, they provide spawning areas and habitat for some 33 species of fish and shellfish, oysters, mud crabs and clams – around 90% of The Gambia’s fishery resources – promoting food sources, fishers’ incomes and biodiversity. Managed sustainably, they also provide wood for homes and small community practices, such as fish curing.
The Kotu Creek project aims to map and regenerate the local mangrove swamps.
The project team have mapped degraded areas of mangrove suitable for regeneration, and designed the planting areas so as to fit the natural shape of the creek and the remaining mangrove.
Propagules are reaped from different species within the local mangrove itself, ensuring local genetic diversity is continued. Propagules are then planted by local volunteers during the wet season. During the first 2 ha planting phase in 2018 – 50% funded by Inglorious Bustards Birding, Conservation and Wildlife Tours – a healthy 60% of the propagules survived.
The successful techniques were then used to expand the project and plant a further 3 ha in 2020 – 100% funded by Inglorious Bustards Birding, Conservation and Wildlife Tours.
Going forward the Gambia Birdwatchers Association will continue to map, replant and manage mangrove around the Kotu Creek area.
The project is ideally located at a tourism and birdwatching hub, and the next phase of the project will be to develop the area´s potential as a ´gateway´ to showcase for the nation´s biodiversity. Tourism, including ecotourism, accounts for on average around 20% of GDP, and the upriver protected area network, as well as the country´s low intensity agriculture forms a vital part of that income.
Interpretation and guiding at Kotu Creek nature reserve can form an important part of reviving recognition of the importance of the country´s biodiversity as tourism begins to recover after recent years that have seen political unrest, Ebola and travel restrictions due to COVID-19 cause great damage to the sector. It can also provide local employment within the tourism sector, increasing the value placed upon biodiversity and sustainable tourism by local people.
Recovery Curve status
R3 Solutions enable achievement against population/range targets but only with continued conservation intervention but moving rapidly towards S1 Indication that population/range targets being achieved with lowering conservation intervention as long as funding for planting can continue and is increased.
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