ResilienSEA in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone lies on the south–west of West Africa, bordered by Guinea to the north–east and Liberia to the south–east. It has a vast coastline of 402 km along the Atlantic Ocean. Similar to its West African neighbours, Sierra Leone is rich in biodiversity. The wide variety of vegetation present is comprised of mangrove swamps and large beaches that occur along the coats, rivers, mountains, grasslands, woods and savannah on the interior plains. These areas are home to avast array of species include primates (including chimpanzees, colobus monkey), terrestrial and marine mammals (i.e. bongo antelope), birds, and reptiles (crocodiles, sea turtles) Several of these species are listed as which are rare or endangered (i.e. pygmy hippopotamus). Additionally, Sierra Leone has one of the region’s largest and most productive stocks of fisheries.
Current priorities in Sierra Leone include improving political, social and economic well-being. As such, environmental protection has a key role in achieving this goal. Indeed, the country’s young and diverse population relies on fertile soils, healthy oceans, abundant natural resources and resilient coasts. The highest densities of population occur in low-lying areas along the coast and in the peninsula of Freetown. Economic growth and employment are primarily driven by the extraction of natural resources (e.g. iron ore, diamonds), as well as agriculture which employs more than 60% of the population. Fisheries play a fundamental role in economic development and food security; it is also at the core of costal communities’ cultural and social organisation.
Soil exhaustion and deforestation, depletion of natural resources during the civil war, and degradation of marine ecosystems caused by overfishing and destructive fishing practices are major threats to Sierra Leone’s environment. These pressures are in turn exacerbated by climate change which affects rainfalls, accelerates desertification and increases ocean temperatures.
As part of Sierras Leone’s commitment to preserve biological diversity and to fight against climate change (through the Convention on Biological Diversity and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), seagrass conservation is of crucial importance. The state already has a set of laws and tools which can contribute toward this goal. This includes the National Environmental Policy of Sierra Leone (1995), Environmental Protection Law (2000), and the creation of Protected Areas (PAs). To date, eight Marine Managed Areas exist. Yet, the state of seagrass in Sierra Leone is relatively unknown. Through the ResilienSEA project, Sierra Leone is conducting further research in order to improve seagrass meadows protection.