Ecosystem Restoration in The Gambia


With Madiba Singhateh

Welcome to another edition of the Environment and in this week’s Edition of the Column, we bring you a statement from Kemo Fatty of Green-up Gambia, in an interview that this Columnist had with Mustapha Manneh, an environmental activist, during the commemoration of World Environment Day (WED), and the underlying realities of the aquatic ecosystems of the country.

Every 5th June, WED is celebrated around the globe and this year’s theme for the celebration was themed on ‘Ecosystem Restoration’.

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms that live and interact with each other. According to UN Environment, ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ means assisting in the restoration and recovery of degraded or destroyed ecosystems as well as conserving those that are intact. 

It states that healthier ecosystems with richer biodiversity yield greater benefits such as more fertile soils, bigger yields of timber and fish and larger stores of greenhouse gases. The UN Environment said restoration can happen in many ways such as through actively planting or by removing pressures so that nature can recover on its own.

In line with this year’s theme, the UN Environment came up with the “Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.”

Starting on World Environment Day 2021-2030, individuals, groups, Governments, businesses and organizations of all kinds, will join forces in a global movement to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation and secure a sustainable future for humankind.

Speaking at the commemoration, Kemo Fatty, Executive Director and Head of Community Engagement gave the following statement:

“Today, we join the global community to celebrate World Environment Day, an opportunity to connect with nature and to recommit ourselves to building a cleaner and more sustainable world for generations to come.

“World Environment Day, held yearly on the 5th of June, celebrates the efforts of those who work for a healthier environment. It has been marked by the United Nations since 1972, on the occasion of the first global conference on the human environment.

“Ecosystems restoration’ is the theme for the World’s environment in 2021. The theme urges humanity to come together and help revive nature by restoring ecosystems. Today, ‘Green-Up Gambia’ and partners will work on propagating indigenous tree species of up to 5, 000 trees. We are proud to celebrate our shared environment and to work with our partners in the country to leave a healthier planet for posterity.”

Director Fatty said WED reminds them of their responsibility to safeguard their environment as each of them has a role to play to preserve and protect it.

He continued: “More than ever, ‘Green-Up Gambia’ is committed to provide the synergy to fight climate change and ensure that our ecosystems are protected. We will continue to work with our domestic and international partners to drive progress on environmental challenges we face as a country. The Gambia Government has taken strong steps to protect the environment, taking action on illegal logging and other ecosystem destruction such as marine pollution and overfishing. Despite this progress, we have much more work to do. Government should be more committed to work with people particularly the youth and indigenous people, to find concrete and effective solutions to these critical environmental issues.

“Today, we ask all Gambians and everyone around the world to remember that we share one planet. Climate change does not recognize borders. Our children’s future, depend on our immediate and collective response. We renew our commitment today and pledge our untiring efforts to conserve now and for posterity, as wide a spectrum as possible of our remaining ‘flora and fauna,’ he concluded.

On his part, Mustapha Manneh, an environmental journalist and activist on marine ecosystems particularly fisheries related matters, said the Gambia’s marine ecosystem has gradually decreased due to overfishing caused by the high presence foreign and local vessels in our waters; that for the last five years, the country has a high amount of pressure from these vessels which is “first due to Gambia’s EU and the Senegambia fishing agreements; that the Senegambia fishing agreement allows both nationals to fish in each other’s waters meaning any vessel registered under a Senegalese flag, can fish in the Gambia.

Manneh said this does not augur well compared to the geographical size of the Gambia when compared to Senegal, because the later has more fishing boats; that this is a big disadvantage for the country and puts too much pressure on her sea resource.

“Secondly, since the coming of fishmeal factories who require lots of pelagic fish such as ‘bonga’ and ‘sardinella’, the fishermen have put too much pressure on this pelagic fish stock whose level the Gambia does not know and has depended on for years,” he said.

Manneh said the theme for this year says a lot about how best we can protect and restore the already damaged ecosystem because already, the Gambia faces so much problems and pressures due to the porosity of her sea boarders in the sub region; that the country does not have the capacity to protect her waters.

“So, if they cannot by this year’s theme seriously, it means that they are doomed. Because as long as they continue to operate as a nation, without protecting their marine resources, they will lose. One thing we should understand is that the country’s pelagic data says 90% of pelagic catches caught are usually not for human consumption. These are exported for pig and aquaculture farms in foreign countries. This is crazy! If the theme is not taken seriously, it will affect us. It is about time for Government to reflect on our resources and on how best to restore the already damaged aquatic ecosystem,” he said.

Commenting on the question regarding the country’s depleting resources and how Government should address such adversity, Manneh said The following:

“I know the Government knows this better but they are not interested in dealing with the issue because there is a country called China that is involved and we all know that this illegal fishing in the country, is done by the Chinese and the Government knows this.

“When the navy arrests them with their vessels for violating these rules their licenses are not revoked which shows that Government is not interested. We have seen Golden Lead and other similar factories discharging waste water into the sea, and nothing has come out of this. They will never address this issue because Chinese Companies are involved.’’

Finally, speaking on the ecosystem and the destruction of the country’s biodiversity in Kombo South, Manneh said the district has seen a great loss in these areas during the last five years because all fishmeal factories are located in the area.

He said the coastal areas of the district deserve protection to remedy what has happened by closing down all fishmeal factories and allow sustainable fishing practices to continue.

“As long as the fishmeal factories are operating in this unsustainable manner, illegal fishing will forever continue in this country,” Manneh concludes.