Rebuilding Senegal’s Mangrove Forests
The Senegalese are moving fast to save the mangrove forests with help from volunteers [some from Treehugger]. Organized by the aquatic organization Oceanium and financially backed by French food company Danone (they make Dannon Yogurt and Evian, to name a few), the project began in 2006 with test planting of 65,000 . 2009 saw the largest project of 30 million trees, though by the end of 2010 the Senegalese are looking to plant 60 million.
Mangrove forests, like other forests, are great at sequestering carbon and can actually store 50 times more carbon as a normal rainforest. Not only do mangroves absorb more CO2, they can be grown bodies of water with high saline concentration. The amount of saline the plant can tolerate ranges by species and goes from brackish water (part fresh, part salt) to nearly twice the amount of saline in the ocean. Mangroves generally grow along flooding rivers or coastlines and have many advantages. The roots of the trees:
- act as a sink for colloidal heavy metals and large sediments
- dissipates wave energy which protects coastlines against tsunamis, erosion and storm surges
- provide a nutrient rich ecosystem for marine animals [source: Treasures of the Sea].
The last point is especially important as mangrove roots attract oysters, algae, barnacles, sponges,bryozoans, shrimps, mud lobsters and Mangrove crabs. The slower waters around the trees are also attractive nursing grounds for many fish and bottom dwellers like catfish. Fish caught along the coast of Casamance feed up to 40 percent of the country’s population and provides jobs for thousands of locals [Source: Treehugger]. As the mangrove trees disappear, so do the fish in the region. According to Bacary Sane, head of regional fishing inspectorate, there are an abundance of larger fish but smaller fish like catfish cannot be found. Local fishermen also note that the amount of fish have reduced drastically as evidenced by the sharp decrease in income from $20/day to $4/day for their catch. Local farmers are also being impacted by the mangrove disappearance. Mariama Sonko, head of a local women’s group in Niaguis, notes that rice paddies are the most affected by the dwindling mangroves since rice is sensitive to salinity. With fewer mangroves, the salinity of the water increases. Unfortunately, mangroves in Casamance are disappearing at the alarming rate of 0.8 percent per year and are either critically endangered or approaching extinction in 26 of the 120 countries where they are found. Since 1980s, the population of mangroves has decreased more than 30 percent [Source: Treehugger]. While higher rainfall could improve this number, non-profit organizations and the people of Senegal are working hard to help with reforestation [Source: IRIN].
One of the first problems to solve is the actual cause of the severe deforestation. There are several factors for mangrove deforestation:
- human encroachment
- blockage of water by roadways
- cycles of drought
There has also been evidence that mangroves are destroyed for firewood and oyster hunting. While the replating effort gathered 78,000 volunteers from 323 villages and an investment of $1 million from Danone [Source: Africa Good News], the replanting will not be a success if these organizations cannot find the root cause for the deforestation. Oceanium and other organizations must also educate the volunteers on the proper species of mangroves to plant. Currently, there are two types of mangroves in Casamance: rhizophora racemosa and avicennia nitida that if not planted in the proper places could have negative impact on the ecosystem. This is also not a quick fix as it takes between 5-10 years to see any real results [Source: IRIN]. Still, the enthusiasm and urgency to replant these once massive forests has brought together people from many villages and even countries. The increase in awareness has helped thousands of locals realize the importance of these mangroves and has even pressed the government to consider protecting these forests by national laws. Unfortunately, while Senegal might be making the steps to reforest the mangrove swamps, if other countries do not put forward the same effort, then the replanting effort might be in vain. Climate change has a direct effect on these trees and while improving the numbers in one location is important, the project needs to cross international boundaries. This can only be done with the cooperation of different governments and multi-national companies like Danone. While, Danone’s involvement is more about offsetting their own environmental impact than actual charity efforts, their investment and influence also brought on Voyageurs du Monde, and could potentially bring on other organizations to help fund projects around the world [Source: Down to Earth Blog].
While the Senegalese people in Casmance are moving fast to save these trees, the government is still dragging their feet on funding and national protection. Still, educating the locals (especially the youths) is the first step towards a greener future. The next is garnering more attention and funding for protection and replanting of these forests around the world. Not only will it affect the local ecosystem, but the global one as well. Scientists are currently trying to figure out how much carbone 500,000 hectares of carbon can sequester.