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.
The workshop is the first in a series of national seagrass species identification, mapping and monitoring trainings held in the seven ResilienSEA pilot countries.
From October 28th to November 1st 2019, the first ResilienSEA national training on seagrass species identification, mapping and monitoring techniques took place in Guinea. This training was primarily aimed at scientists, technicians and managers, to learn more about the different seagrass species characteristics in Western Africa, to map seagrass beds located in chosen pilot sites, and to learn monitoring techniques for future observations. The planned activities also included data collection on GPS coordinates, and awareness raising of local communities on the importance of seagrasses and the ecosystem services they provide.
The training was facilitated by Mr. Mohammed Ahmed Sidi Cheikh, GIS and seagrass specialist from Mauritania, and Dr. Malle Diagana, ResilienSEA Regional Coordinator. It was organized around the following modules: overview of seagrasses’ biology and ecology; importance of seagrasses and threats; mapping and monitoring of seagrasses; data collection and analysis; practical GIS and GPS exercises. The fieldwork took place at Kassa, one of the main islands of the Los Islands archipelago, located off Conakry.
The participants represented several national institutions, including the Center for the Protection of the Marine Environment and Coastal Areas (CPMZC), the Guinean Office of Parks and Reserves (OGUIPAR), the Center for Environmental Information Observation and Monitoring (COSIE), the National Center for Fisheries Science of Boussoura (CNSHB), the Scientific Research Center of Conakry Rogbané (CERESCOR), the National Directorate of Herbarium of Guinea (HNG), and the Guinean Federation of Artisanal Fishing (FEGUIPA).
The site that was selected to conduct the practical session of the training had been suggested based on information on the presence of seagrass provided by local fishermen, as well as by a study conducted in 2011 by the Centre for Ecological Monitoring (CSE) and WWF. It has however been found that some local fishermen sometimes confuse seagrass with green algae.
Although two days were dedicated to exploring the pilot site, these proved insufficient at this stage to confirm the presence of seagrass around Kassa Island. “A sampling campaign with uniform grids is necessary in order to be able to confirm the presence of seagrass. Yet, although seagrass could not be located during the training, this potential site needs to be considered again and explored thoroughly in the future” said Mr. Sidi Cheikh at the end of the workshop.
The training constituted an excellent opportunity for the national team to better understand the differences between seagrass and algae. In addition, important information on physical and oceanographic factors favorable to the development of seagrass meadows was also collected in order to facilitate future field missions.
Participating in the training, Ms. Nagnouma Conde, from the Guinean national team noted, “this workshop allowed me to really deepen the knowledge acquired last March during the workshop in Joal (Senegal). The field investigations around Kassa specifically helped me better understand data collection techniques in marine environments, and the importance of mapping tools”.
The following indicators were identified as synonymous with presence of seagrass beds: depth (needing light, seagrasses are generally found in shallow waters along the coast); the presence of dead seagrasses shedding on the beach (seagrasses growing near the coast usually end up being brought back by the current several times a year); the type of substrate (sandy-muddy for seagrasses); the configuration of the site in relation to the coast (seagrasses are often located in bays sheltered from waves).
Several recommendations were made at the end of the workshop. Firstly, continue the research on the identified pilot site before extending it to other sites along the Guinean coast. The importance of conducting a thorough study of the sites before their exploration, with the aim of gathering strong indications concerning the potential presence of seagrasses was further noted. It was finally deemed necessary to develop large format posters for local fishermen and national teams involved in seagrass monitoring. Indeed, highlighting synthetic information through good quality infographics will help raising awareness, and facilitate the identification of the existing species in the area.
“I particularly welcome this training on seagrass species identification, mapping and monitoring techniques, which has strengthened the national capacity of our technical services in charge of research on, and conservation of the marine and coastal environment. This feeling of satisfaction is shared by all the participants of this workshop, who believe that with sufficient research and monitoring equipment, Guinea is now equipped to begin the identification and protection of its seagrass sites, starting with the pilot site of the Los Islands, before covering the 338 km-long coastline”, declared Mr. Mohamed Lamine Sidibé, Director General of the Marine Environment and Coastal Zones under the Ministry of Environment, at the end of the workshop.
The next national seagrass species identification, mapping and monitoring trainings will take place in the six other ResilienSEA pilot countries: Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.
Photos: Mohamed Lamine Sidibé