A lot has changed since November 2019, when the ResilienSEA project awarded four seagrass research scholarships to master’s students. However, the recipients’ determination to complete their programs and protect seagrass ecosystems has not.
We follow MSc. student Omar Sanneh during the capacity building workshop, where the Gambian national team discovered seagrass meadows around the Bijol Islands.
From January 20-24 2020 in The Gambia, the ResilienSEA project held its fourthnational training on seagrass species identification, mapping and monitoring at the Sanyang Nature Camp in Serrekunda. Opened by Mr. Ousainou Touray, Deputy Director of the Gambian Department of Parks and Wildlife Management (DPWM) and coordinator of the national team, the training was aimed at scientists, technicians and managers, for them to learn more about the different seagrass species present in West Africa, and identify the best mapping and monitoring techniques to apply in their pilot sites.
Workshop participants represented local communities from the coastal village of Kartong, the National Environmental Agency (NEA), the National Association of Artisanal Fisheries Operators (NAAFO), the Gambian Navy, the Niumi National Park, the West African Bird Study Association (WABSA), the University of the Gambia, the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), Biodiversity Action Journalists (BAJ-Gambia) and Wetlands International Africa.
The training was facilitated by Dr. Maria Potouroglou, lead of ResilienSEA’s Scientific Research strategy, and by Mr. Mohammed Ahmed Sidi Cheikh, GIS and seagrass specialist from Mauritania. It was organized around the following modules:
Day 1: Overview of seagrasses’ biology and ecology.
This first module embraced aspects as wide as what are seagrasses, why do seagrasses matter, seagrass ecology, morphology and taxonomy, why are seagrass ecosystems decreasing globally, the differences between seagrasses and algae, criteria for seagrass localization, and seagrass-coral reef-mangrove interactions. Some of the participants questions and remarks revolved around potential adaptive mechanisms of seagrass to withstand pollution, the feasibility of seagrass restoration, the global rate of seagrass loss, and the potential actions to be taken in order to reduce threats to seagrass.
Day 2: Importance of seagrasses.
The second module emphasized the importance of seagrass ecosystems, notably through a presentation of their flow of ecosystem services, including the provision of habitat for biodiversity, nursery and spawning grounds for important commercial fish species, coastal erosion control, carbon sequestration, as well as cultural benefits. Following the theoretical lecture, participants went for the first field exploration to Kartong. There, participants found some seagrass leaves of Cymodocea nodosa on the shore.
Day 3: Threats to seagrass ecosystems.
On the third day, after discussing the multiple threats to seagrass ecosystems in the morning, participants left the Gambian mainland to visit the Bijol Islands for their second field trip. While exploring the waters surrounding the islands, participants discovered vast meadows of Halodule wrightii. This constituted a great discovery, following that of Sierra Leone last month. Conveniently, the shallowness of the waters in which the seagrass meadows of Bijol Island lie should facilitate future monitoring activities, through the use quadrats.
Day 4: Mapping and monitoring of seagrasses.
The day started with theoretical discussions on the mapping and monitoring of seagrasses. Later, the participants were divided into two groups, each with its dedicated monitoring plan, before returning to Bijol Islands in order to apply the monitoring plans working with transects. In the meantime, another team further explored the southern part of the islands, and was fortunate enough to discover another seagrass species at the same site, Cymodocea nodosa. The recent seagrass discoveries at different ResilienSEA national pilot sites prompt big hopes for the discovery and mapping of further seagrass beds in the West African subregion.
Day 5: Data collection and analysis.
The day began with an overall summary of the previous days’ discussions and activities, followed by a brief introduction to data collection and analysis – the fourth and last module of the workshop – and by a group exercise aimed at evaluating each participant’s understanding of the training.
This last day also constituted an occasion for participants to provide individual remarks on the workshop as well as on the forthcoming activities of the Gambian national team.
Following Mr. Touray’s closing remarks to the workshop, Mr. Sidi Cheikh considered this training to have been one of the most successful of the series so far, not the least due to the very important discovery of several seagrass meadows of both Halodule wrightii and Cymodocea nodosa around Bijol Islands. “The most important aspect is Bijol Islands’ strategic location. The island’s surroundings abound with marine meadows full of seagrass, in addition to the important biological diversity that has been observed at this site, including water birds, mollusks, and sea turtles”, emphasized Mr. Sidi Cheikh.
In the coming weeks, the Gambian national team will return to the Bijol Islands and monitor the status of the meadows found there.
Louis PILLE-SCHNEIDER & Omar SANNEH