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, has 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 exists; 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.
Threats to this biodiversity and ecosystem services include:
● over-fishing and illegal fishing causing the depletion of stocks and ecosystem damage
● fisheries bycatch, e.g. marine turtles, coastal dolphins, humpback whales, juvenile fish, sharks and rays
● risk of pollution from offshore oil and gas production and potential impacts from exploration activities
● infrastructure development impacts on coastal habitats and species such as turtles, dolphins and breeding fish, as well as shipping collisions with whales
WCS addresses this at a number of levels including working in the field with the authorities and fishing communities and at higher political levels. WCS field staff at our coastal sites, Loango and Mayumba National Parks and around Libreville and Port Gentil, are involved in supporting reform of artisanal fisheries to build sustainability. We are building institutional capacity of government and fisheries cooperatives to manage and monitor fishing boats and landings. These are the two highest priorities for ensuring fisheries sustainability and food security in Gabon.
WCS engages closely with industry to advise on best-practice for mitigating impacts on whales and other marine wildlife from oil & gas exploration activities, industrial fisheries, infrastructure development and tourism. This has had valuable benefits including the placement of fisheries observers on trawlers, best-practice mitigation of impacts of seismic surveys on cetaceans and relocation of beach lighting which was harming turtles.
WCS partners closely with Gabon Bleu, a Presidential marine conservation initiative aimed at the sustainable management of Gabon’s coastal and oceanic waters and creation of a comprehensive marine protected area network. We have worked closely with Gabon’s National Park Agency (ANPN) and National Fisheries Agency (ANPA) to support conservation of marine wildlife. Additionally the Gabon Bleu initiative aims to reinforce the management of the country's industrial and artisanal fisheries, offshore oil and gas industries, and maritime security. WCS has been working in partnership with Exeter University to develop a marine biodiversity atlas to support spatial planning and analysis for coastal and marine environments. This compiles and maps a wide range of marine, biological, extractive industry and political/organizational data and information. It has been invaluable for marine protected area planning by the Government of Gabon.