The mangrove: an effective solution for carbon sequestration and coastal erosion in Senegal

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Dr Cherif Samsedine Sarr

Senegal has over 500 km of coastline. It is threatened by both human pressure and climate change, impacting coastal erosion. This threat affects the coastal cities of Saint-Louis, Cayar, Dakar, Mbour and all along the Petite Côte, as well as the islands of Casamance which are already suffering the consequences. Coastal erosion happens when local sea levels rise, intense wave action, and coastal flooding wears down or carries away rocks, soils, and/or sands along the coast. It constitutes real pressure on the environment, often causing loss of land, and damage to water quality, biodiversity, and infrastructure. It is a danger for the populations living nearby. Coastal erosion is a problem to be taken seriously and addressed immediately. Africa Carbon & Commodities (ACC) believes that mangroves constitute a non-negligible solution.

Mangroves are powerhouses when it comes to carbon storage. Studies have shown that mangroves can sequester four times more carbon than terrestrial forests can. Most of this carbon is stored in the soil beneath mangrove trees. This coastal ecosystem acts as a storm barrier: protecting inland areas from flooding and erosion by dissipating the energy of waves. They help filter river water of pollutants and trap excess sediment before it reaches the ocean. Their role as fish and oyster nurseries provides economic resources for the local populations. Mangrove protection and restoration represent one of the most viable climate strategies to sequester significant amounts of carbon and fight coastal erosion. To that effect, ACC has partnered with Dr. Cherif Samsedine Sarr and his organization to initiate a process to replant and protect mangrove ecosystems.

Dr Sarr specializes in mangrove ecosystems. He has always lived in a coastal area, more precisely on the island of Carabane in Casamance, in the south of Senegal. Carabane is 80% water, covered by mangrove mudflats. His passion for his home environment led him to study the coastal ecosystem “I live between the mangrove forest and the waterways. The life of the inhabitants of my island revolves around water and the mangrove ecosystem. Therefore, I can develop scientific empirical data regarding the mangroves”. Dr Sarr explains. In 2015, he became the Network Coordinator of the Islands of Lower Casamance for the Integrated Management of Coastal Zones. It gathers 21 villages on the islands of Lower Casamance. This Network aims to strengthen community synergies and advocacy on the vulnerability of their environment and promote partnerships to improve the living conditions of the populations. They have planted over 97,000 mangrove propagules in various strategic sites on the island. Today, they are becoming mangrove forests protecting the island from the advancing sea. “Mangroves occupy a central place in the strategy of our organization. The mangrove is today the main “wall” of protection of many islands against the advance of the sea. The islands most vulnerable to coastal erosion are the ones not surrounded by mangrove vegetation,” he says. It becomes imperative to protect them, particularly against intense exploitation, which has been noted in certain areas. “Overall, the indigenous populations have always had a healthy relationship with nature, and there is a strong local environmental awareness,” explains Dr Sarr. According to him, immigration to these areas and population growth has become an environmental concern. He sees the solution in the education of the population and the implementation of appropriate measures.

Numerous projects are based on prohibiting mangroves’ exploitation by indigenous populations in Casamance. For Dr Sarr, this is not acceptable. “The life of the local population is intrinsically linked with using natural resources. The people know how to use the mangroves and live in harmony with nature. Prohibiting them from using the mangrove forest, collecting oysters, or fishing in the bolongs would put the populations in extreme poverty.” Fish and oysters which reproduce in mangroves are the primary sources of income in the blue economy in the islands of Casamance. Mangroves are also valued as energy sources for household cooking, fish smoking, baking, and construction.

Mangroves are a multi-faceted wealth of resources for the communities as well as for the protection of the environment. Their reforestation and protection are essential. ACC’s mission is to develop a responsible and adaptive conservation plan to ensure sustainability that can benefit society, the economy, and the environment.