Notes from the Field: Gabon, October 2019
December 2, 2019; By Molly Shane, Marine Program Coordinator
The WildAid Marine team recently returned from a key strategic planning visit with our partners in Gabon. Gabon’s waters are home to the world’s largest nesting population of leatherback sea turtles, critically endangered humpback dolphins, humpback whale calving grounds, and over 60 species of sharks and rays, making the country a priority conservation target.
Recognizing the ecological and economic importance of the country’s diverse marine resources, President Ali Bongo Ondimba declared the creation of a massive network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Gabon’s coastal zone in 2017. However, a lack of resources and capacity meant Gabon’s new MPAs were still vulnerable to the harmful effects of rampant illegal fishing.
In 2018, WildAid Marine launched a new project at four pilot sites within Gabon’s MPA network to pave the way for improved marine protection and enforcement throughout the country. Since then, WildAid Marine and our primary in-country partner, the Gabon National Agency of National Parks (ANPN), have been working diligently to develop a comprehensive Marine Protection System (MPS) Plan for Gabon’s MPAs. The MPS Plan will address the five key elements that discourage illegal fishing activity and improve the effectiveness of existing MPAs, including: 1) surveillance and enforcement; 2) policies and consequences; 3) consistent funding; 4) training and mentorship; 5) community engagement.
The purpose of our most recent trip to Gabon was to develop a detailed annual work plan to ensure effective, efficient collaboration between WildAid Marine and ANPN in the coming year. Priorities for next year include capacity building for MPA managers, training for ANPN’s EcoGuards or rangers, ongoing equipment assessments, and the implementation of real-time information-sharing about illegal fishing seizures and cases. These deliverables nest under the MPS Plan and build upon WildAid Marine’s efforts to equip ANPN’s EcoGuards with critical surveillance and enforcement equipment. This equipment, including cameras, VHF radios, night vision binoculars, smartphones, and more, has already been used to support the investigation of a large illegal fishing case in Port Gentil.