Guest Blog: The mangrove swamps of Senegals Casamance
Kassumei – Welcome to Senegal!
Simon Fenton was born in England, but had a deep it for wunderlust through the African continent. Now relocated to the Casamance region in Senegal, Simon runs the very cool Little Baobab, a solar run African farmhouse ,sourcing everything from the region that he now calls home with his family.In part 1 of this blog he takes us on a journey to Abene, one of five mangrove protected areas in Senegal.
Despite endless sandy beaches, friendly people, eco-lodges, great food, culture and some of the best music of the continent, the Casamance, a region in southern Senegal, is almost devoid of tourists. I am a resident of a village by the sea, Abene, which is within a protected marine conservation area. I recently made a trip along the coast and into the islands of the mangroves, before which, I chatted to Paul Moise Diedhiou, director of the government run “Abene Aire Marine Protogee”, about the steps they are taking to protect and regenerate the region.
I asked Paul what the aims of his organisation were. “Tourism is vital for our development and environmental protection is of national importance for the development of the livelihoods of our communities, as well as attracting tourists. We set up the conservation area in 2003, following the international conference of environmental protection. Abene is one of five protected areas in Senegal; an ocean region of 10 by 15 kilometers, as well as the mangrove swamps inland. We are trying to improve fish stocks and no fishing is allowed within the area. We try to involve the whole community and get them on our side”.
To start my journey, I walked south from Abene, along the empty beach to the fishing port of Kafountine. Waves crashing in from the Atlantic and I watched the colourful fishing boats launching. I had expressed surprise to Paul that they fish outside the boundaries.
“They are supposed to and they know they have to protect the fish stock to provide for their future, but people here are poor and they have to provide for their families. It’s hard - we try to police this, but we only have one boat with no motor. When we catch people fishing in the area, they claim they thought they were outside the area. Really though, everyone knows where they can and can’t fish. It’s tough. There’s also the problem of boats from the Gambia.”
Beyond Kafountine are miles of mangrove swamp and salt flats, stretching down to the River Casamance and beyond. I hopped into a dug out canoe with several passengers, two bicycles, a motorbike and a large trussed up pig. Wobbling slightly, we passed through the mangroves and I watched old women in canoes harvesting oysters from the mangroves roots. I thought back to Paul’s words. An important part of our work is conserving the mangroves; they are one of the first ecosystems to be affected during climate change.
Just last week I went with local women to plant new ones. Oysters grow in the roots and fish breed in the shallow waters. Slowly, we can increase stocks and help develop the villages.” Hectares of new mangroves have been planted in recent years by local villagers. By involving them in the process, it’s hoped that they’ll help conserve them in the future.
The wood from mangrove trees is often used for firewood and to make ceilings inside houses. It’s beautiful and before I’d realised the problem, I’d made enquiries as I’ve been building my own guest house. I was told it was forbidden to cut. It is still available illegally, for a price, but I am now of course looking into alternatives, as we all must in many areas of our lives.
Simon was born and educated near Oxford. After an early career as a biologist, he set off for Asia, staying as far off the beaten track as possible and then working in Vietnam for four years. Eventually, the call of the not particularly wild was heard, and he returned to the UK to set up the social enterprise StreetShine. A perfect storm of events re-ignited his wanderlust and one day he realised he had forgotten to cross the Sahara. He has now relocated to Senegal with Khady and their son Gulliver, to indulge in his passions: travel, writing and photography.
Blog address: http://thelittlebaobab.com/blog/