The spectacular estuary of the Casamance river in the south of Senegal, the greenest region of the country, was once home to an abundance of mangroves - tropical trees and shrubs that thrive in salty, coastal waters.
Villages here rely on the mangroves to protect them from storms and support agriculture, fishing and the harvesting of shellfish from the mangroves, both for their own consumption and for income. In the 1970s, the area was blighted by drought. People started using the mangroves for firewood, which fed a vicious cycle of deforestation and poverty.
WeForest is working with Oceanium, the most experienced mangrove restoration NGO in Senegal. Our goal in Casamance is to replant mangroves over 2245 hectares at a density of 5000 trees per hectare and re-establish sustainable and profitable mangrove-friendly fishing and farming activities for local communities. Our project here is expected to form part of the largest carbon-certified mangrove project in the world, together with a similar project in the more northerly Sine Saloum delta.
- Protect communities from storm surges and erosion.
- Mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide as the mangroves grow.
- Support resilient livelihoods by protecting agricultural land and boosting fish and shellfish productivity, allowing sustainable harvests that provide income for local people.
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Why is intervention needed?
Mangroves – trees and shrubs that are specially adapted to live in salty, tidal water – are one of the most incredible ecosystems. Their complex root systems protect coastal areas from storms and erosion, provide habitats for fish and shellfish that are important protein sources for local people, and sequester huge amounts of carbon that can fight climate change.
The Casamance delta is known for a high biodiversity of flora and fauna. It is home to several critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable species of turtle, including the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) and the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), as well as the critically endangered Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii), the African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) and the lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos).
The Diola are the dominant ethnic group in the Casamance, but represent only 4% of the total population of Senegal. This animist ethnic group is very aware of the importance of conserving and restoring the mangroves. In one village they have stopped fishing for shrimp, recognising the importance of this organism in attracting other types of fish.
The delta was seriously affected by a drought from 1968 to 1994, which killed the mangroves in the higher parts of the mudflats. The mangroves were also chopped down for their wood, which is used for construction, firewood and charcoal for fish smoking and cooking. Without the mangroves, the coastal communities are vulnerable to the loss of income from shellfish harvests, as well as to the destruction caused by storms.
The mangroves here are crucial to local people; fish, including shellfish, is the primary source of animal protein in Senegal. While men do most of the fishing, women are more involved in shellfish and oyster collection and processing, but household incomes are low because of ever-diminishing harvests of fish and shellfish after the loss of their mangroves habitat. The communities here also rely heavily on farming, with maize, rice, peanuts and fruit grown both for consumption and for sale, and sometimes for export. Farmers report an increase in the salinity of the soil as a result of the disappearing mangroves, making it difficult to grow crops and food in the plots close to the river.
Local communities are deeply engaged in the restoration of the mangroves. Women and young people in particular participate in the project by collecting and planting mangrove propagules – or seeds.
The project will boost fish stocks and create sustainable harvesting opportunities for fishing and shellfish collection on the tidal channels and mudflats. Creating new market opportunities and strengthening local expertise on mangroves could open new opportunities to connect local products to different markets and regions in Senegal.