One week of a „linking“-mission to Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) made obvious that the country in West-Africa has both challenges but the potential to create a series of marine protected areas (MPAs). The vision of former Minister of Environment, Rémi Allah-Kouadio, once formulated, could become reality and would be an important contribution to the global goal (CBD-Aichi target 11) to get 10% of the world’s marine ecosystems and habitats protected. 5 new MPAs are in planning and the Secretariat of the UN Abidjan Convention (ABC) has the mandate of the Government to facilitate the implementation of that plan. When LT&C met last week with ABC, Grand Béréby, where LT&C- and CEM- member Olaf Grell and his team have for several years studied and assessed the marine biodiversity and worked closely together with the local people for protecting the turtle coast, came out as the pioneering case and candidate for the first MPA to be established likely already in 2019.
In the same week also representatives of several West-Africa- and turtle conservation-related organizations met in Grand Bassam for a “Workshop to set up a regional initiative towards marine turtle conservation in West Africa”. LT&C participated on the last day (December 7) in the “Dialogue session with strategic partners”. The overall objective of the workshop was “to contribute to promoting dialogue and the search for synergy between actors, civil society in particular, active in the conservation of marine turtles in West Africa (from Gambia to Nigeria)”. And again, the marine protected area and turtle conservation project at Grand Béréby could become a test case and model for other projects demonstrating how synergy is produced by a practiced partnership between NGOs and governmental institutions.
During our mission, it actually became obvious that more efforts need to be done to produce more synergy, cooperation, and partnerships between different actors active or interested in marine turtle conservation and marine protected areas in Côte d’Ivoire. In Grand Béréby alone are already several players involved: Key is the national NGO Conservation des Espace Marine (CEM) together with its German member Olaf Grell, his team and supporters. The „father” of CEM is Jose Gomez, a Spanish veterinary, who is living in Côte d’Ivoire since 1993. He, in 2012 was accompanied by Alexandre Dah, an Ivorian biologist at the University of Cocody in Abidjan, who has taken over the observation of spawning events of sea turtles in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire as a subject of his doctorate. Today Alexandre Dah serves as president of CEM.
Olaf Grell, a freelance biologist and member of CEM and LT&C from Germany, has spent over several years significant time in the Grand Béréby area. Mostly together with other biologists in his team, he produced assessments of the marine biodiversity and established important relationships with local people, communities and local hotel business in order to lay the groundwork for establishing an MPA. His work has been supported in the past by the Lighthouse Foundation and LT&C-member OceanBASIS GmbH.
Other important players in Grand Béréby are the Rainforest Trust, in particular for establishing a private terrestrial protected area, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the later represented by Angela Formia, a biologist working also for the Central-African Marine Turtle Programme of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). We met Angela Formia together with her marine consultant, Catherine McClellan, at a meeting in the Secretariat of the Abidjan Convention (ABC). They were just on the way to Grand Béréby to test out an underwater device for surveying marine fauna.
In the different meetings, LT&C had with ABC, its director, Abou Bamba, emphasized the great value he sees in the recent report (see: CEM-Europe Grand Bereby rapport 2018 francais_LR ) Olaf Grell and his team has produced for an MPA at Grand Béréby. He stated his belief that there is now enough basic information available for the Ivorian Government to establish the first MPA already in the near future (2019?). However, there is so far very little information available for the other 4 or 5 MPAs in planning, although some of them could be related to major international support programmes, such as a GEF-funded mangrove restoration programme or the MAMI WATA PROJECT of ABC and GRID-Arendal, supported by the German Environment Ministry. Apart from Grand Béréby, at least the following areas are foreseen for establishing MPAs:
- Tabou at Cavally River at the border to Liberia
- Azagny (where a terrestrial national park already exist)
- Marine extension of the existing Ehotilées Islands national park at the border to Ghana
With technical support from ABC, Olaf Grell and his team will in the coming 2 months make an attempt to produce a fist survey of these 4 envisioned areas. For this mission, they will be financially supported by the Manfred Hermsen Foundation and OceanBASIS GmbH.
All stakeholders have major interests that the establishment of MPAs will be both to the benefit of nature conservation and of the local communities. Nature-based tourism could play an important role in this context. Grand Béréby could become the first LT&C-Example in Côte d’Ivoire with the potential to serve as a blueprint for the other MPAs in planning if all parties involved here play well together. At least the project area is an attractive destination for nature lovers and tourists. The weakly developed Ivorian tourism has collapsed almost entirely during the crisis period 2002-2011. However, with continued current stabilization of the country, tourism is also expected to re-develop. Grand Béréby is a real touristic „pearl“ due to its beautiful beaches, its peaceful nature, and its picturesque fishing harbor. A visit to the project area will always be an attractive tourist excursion because of outstanding importance for marine turtles as well as its beautiful and diverse coastal landscapes. Nearby is the Tai National Park. Starting points for excursions are in San Pedro, the hotel „Palm-Rock-Beach“ and in Grande Bereby hotels „Katoum“ and „La Flotta“. There are also current information and contact details available about the sea turtles project.
The support from tourism was also expressed in a meeting LT&C had with Côte d’Ivoire Tourisme, where its General Manager and Ambassador, HE Santiéro Jean-Marie Somet, described eco-tourism and the establishment of a marine protected areas at Grand Béréby as desirable and beneficial for his country.