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Bolongfenyo Reserve, The Gambia

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Introduction

The Bolongfenyo Community Wildlife Reserve covers an area of 320km along the Atlantic coast of the Gambia, West Africa, and includes 2km of beaches and open coastline. The site is surrounded by three villages, which broadly comprises the Gunjur community1. The area incorporates an exceptionally high array of ecosystem types for its size; including mangroves, dry woodlands and coastal dune scrub. The site is host to a particularly high diversity of avi-fauna, with 76 species recorded including the Yellow-Crowned Gonolek and the Northern Shoveler2. The Bolongfenyo represents a critical roosting ground for both residential and migratory bird species, being ideally located within the West African flyway for Palearctic species, and it is also a breeding ground for a nationally threatened species of green turtle (Chelonia mydas)1. This delicate mangrove ecosystem is under threat due to human activities such as poaching, logging, beach driving, and firewood collection.

Governance and Administration

Owned by the community of Gunjur, the reserve is managed by local people and the Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group (GEPADG), under an Integrated Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Management Project, in conjunction with the Gambian Department of Parks and Wildlife Management (DPWM) and the World Bank.

History

The reserve was officially established on the 25th of March 2008, as Gambia's first national community owned reserve; however, conservation work began on the site 16 years earlier in 1992. In 1998 the Gunjur village played host to The Gambia's first ever environmental conference at a community level, which involved representatives from the eight clans within the Gunjur community and paved the way to establishing the reserve. For three years, until 2008, the site received funding from WWF and the World Bank as part of an Integrated Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Management (ICAM) project. The managers of the reserve must now work towards making the Bolongfenyo a sustainable enterprise to secure its future.

Although not yet designated, the site has been under close monitoring as an African Waterfowl Census Area from June 20001.

Activities

Activities on site include community based forest management, annual tree planting exercises, improving community health and sanitation, campaigning for more sustainable patterns of development, and an annual village cleaning day1. The site is managed voluntarily by community members with small funds employing the Gambia's first turtle warden. In 2011 GEPADG organised a project which saw 4000 trees being planted on the reserve in order to reduce the detrimental impacts caused by anthropogenic deforestation in the area3. With the help of the WWF, the World Bank and the Global Environment Fund, GEPADG are also working to restore the Bolongfenyo's coastal lagoon, which is rich in marine biodiversity.

GEPADG also operates an ethical gifts scheme in conjunction with Pageant, to allow donors to sponsor the management activities on the reserve and to improve the conditions in the Gunjur community.

Flora and Fauna

To date there has not been a comprehensive ecological assessment of the area; there is no baseline data on species populations within the reserve. Most knowledge is based on annual ranger observations, the two most common species that occur in the mangrove saltpan area are the Red mangrove (Rhizophora racemosa) and the White mangrove (Avicenia nitida). The mangrove forest provides rich fish nursery habitat and safe breeding ground for crabs, oysters, shrimps, mollusks and other crustaceans. Vast quantities of fallen leaf and branch detritus provide food and roosting areas for countless tiny marine creatures. They sheltered areas between the mangrove roots are also prime nesting and roosting areas for multitudes of birds2.

Characteristic plants in the scrub and woodland areas of the reserve are Acacia spp., thinning piliostigma (Poliostigma thonningii), African locust bean (Parkia biglobosa), mango (Mangifera indica), baobab (Adansonia digitata), fig (ficus sp), and rhun palm (Borassus Aethiopum). Anthropogenic activity over the years has maintained the open nature of the scrubland in these areas of the reserve2.

Current fauna inventories are based on the casual observations of the ranger staff, and may therefore reflect a preference for more charismatic species. Species recorded include; Epaulet fruit bats, western red colobus and green velvet monkeys, the Senegal bush baby, humped back dolphin, upside-down jellyfish, crested porcupine, Gambian mongoose, spotted hyena and the rare Mediterranean monk seal1,4.

Threats and Problems

The main threat to the continued management of the reserve is financial; currently the GEPADG team employs 16 full time staff, however their continued employment is dependent on sponsorship. Furthermore the activities on the reserve require the help of volunteers so their continued recruitment is essential.

The reserve is also under threat from climate change. The Gambia has experienced a marked decrease in rainfall in the past 30 years and the water level in the lagoon is dropping5. The people of Gunjur rely heavily on the lagoon and the surrounding forest for subsistence; thus there is a clear need to build adaptive capacity via alternative livelihood options, both from an ecological and social perspective.

The impacts of the Kombo coastal road, which passes the northern side of the reserve, on the resident wildlife and the environment has not been assessed and this may represent a significant threat to species due to disturbance and pollution2.

Threats to the conservation of the green turtle include illegal harvesting of eggs, juveniles and adults, as well as mortality from fisheries bycatch, including trawling; as a result, the monitoring activities undertaken by GEPADG are of crucial importance. The major threat to nesting habitats is erosion and unregulated development of the coast for tourism6.

Coastline erosion has been documented as one of the most significant environmental hazards that has degraded the Gambian coastline. According to the FAO, the rate of erosion of the Gambian coast has been estimated to average to 1 to 2 meters per year amounting to a land loss average of 2.5 to 3 hectares of land per year7. Coastal erosion is caused by both natural and anthropogenic factors and requires implementation of effective preventative measures.

What's next?

The managers of the Bolongfenyo Communtity Wildlife Reserve aim to build capacity and sustainable livelihoods by taking initial investment to set up Ecotourism projects for income generation, such as vegetable gardening and bee keeping, as well as agro-forestry and community forestry schemes. The Gunjur village is also investing in community development via environmental health and sanitation. Following the success of the tree planting event in 2011, GEPADG's executive director plans to build on this annual achievement by planting 7000 more trees in 2012.

Speaking of the future of the reserve, the executive director stated:

We employ a lot of people who are passionate about conserving the Bolongfenyo, but these people are the breadwinners for their families- we cannot expect them to work without a salary...and so we want to develop the ecotourism activities, provide income generation and become a sustainable community"

References

1. Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group (2012). The Bolongfenyo Reserve. Available at: http://gepadg.jilankanet.com/#/the-bolonfenyo/4546444408 [Accessed: 20/03/12].

2. Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group (2007). Request for the secretary of state's approval to designate Bolongfenyo as Gunjur Community Wildlife Reserve [correspondence: 09/08/07]. Available at: http://www.wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2007/08/21/000020439_20070821150051/Rendered/PDF/E17010v20Desig1ITY0WILDLIFE0RESERVE.pdf [Accessed: 20/03/12].

3. The Daily Observer (Banjul) (2011). Gambia: 4000 trees planted at Bonlonfenyo Park, 19th August 2011. Available at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201108191491.html [Accessed: 20/03/11].

4. Access Gambia (2012). Bolongfenyo Community Wildlife Reserve. Available at: http://www.accessgambia.com/information/bolong-fenyo.html [Accessed: 20/03/12].

5. Hutchinson P, (2007). Rainfall analysis of the sahelian drought in the Gambia. Journal of Climatology, 5: 665-672.

6. Barnett L.K, Emms C, Jallow A, Cham A.M, Mortimer J.A, 2004. The distribution and conservation status of marine turtles in The Gambia, West Africa: a first assessment. Oryx, 38: 203-208.

7. Mendy A.N, (2008). Analysis of actors on the Gambia coastal environment. FIBA report, Available at: http://www.lafiba.org/var/plain/storage/original/application/eae52b6d.pdf [Accessed: 27/03/12].

Last updated: 30th March 2012