Nature Tropicale, which has been protecting sea turtles since 1998, is a partner of choice for the GIZMaC project in the process of creating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Benin.
The Integrated Marine and Coastal Area Management (GIZMaC) project, one of three Mami Wata (MW) national pilot projects, is currently being implemented in Benin with the main objective of preserving the country’s marine and coastal ecosystems.
In this context, the approval on June 21 in Cotonou of the descriptive report of two Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs) in Benin (respectively on the sites Bouche du Roy-Togbin Daho, and Donaten) constituted a major step towards the establishment of MPAs. The aim of this MPA creation process is, as explained by Mr. Mallé Diagana, MW project expert on EBSAs, “the preservation of marine and coastal resources in the face of challenges such as climate change, food security, but also the rapid development of heavy infrastructures on the West African sub-region’s coastlines”. Beyond this key technical and scientific step of EBSAs approval, the creation process of an effective and fair MPA nonetheless also requires the support of local populations, as well as the involvement of the various stakeholders working around the coastal and marine resources. The development of a participatory process makes it indeed possible to avoid possible conflicts of use between activities as diverse as fishing, tourism, and conservation.
As part of the GIZMaC project, “data is currently being collected, and discussions are ongoing with local elected representatives, NGOs, the private sector, and more generally all the structures involved in the management of fisheries resources in Benin”, said Ms. Faustine Sinzogan, project coordinator and focal point of the Abidjan Convention. The close collaboration between the NGO Nature Tropicale and the GIZMaC project on the Donaten site in Cotonou is a good example of a participatory process extended to civil society actors, thus reaching beyond the strict scientific and institutional sphere.
Nature Tropicale is a Beninese NGO particularly committed to the preservation of marine resources. Marine turtles in particular, have been the target of the organization’s actions for now more than 20 years. The scope of these actions ranges from the protection of sea turtles to the collection of scientific data, but also informative actions, behavioral change education, or the empowerment of local communities.
As Nature Tropicale’s actions converge with the GIZMaC’s objectives in terms of marine and coastal biodiversity protection, a close collaboration has been ongoing between the organization and the project since April 2019. The NGO is already targeting key sites for the conservation of marine turtles, notably through its Safeguarding of Threatened Species and Ecosystems Program, of which one objective is the safeguarding of the six sea turtles species present in West Africa. Four in particular have been identified by the organization on the Beninese coasts: the olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea coriacea), the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).
During a visit of the GIZMaC project team in Donaten, Mr. Josea Dossou Bodjrenou, Director of Nature Tropicale declared, “This target-site of Nature Tropicale’s actions is important for green turtles. Indeed, juvenile turtles especially, have been living here between anti-erosion spikes for decades, and this area ended-up becoming a feeding area. If these turtles were once fished by the local population, awareness raising campaigns against wildlife crime are now successful. Yet, ane problem remains, that of pollution, which remains a major threat to these turtles”.
Near the site’s beach also lies a nesting area for green turtles. Here, volunteers of Nature Tropicale – the “eco-guards” – are collecting turtle eggs, and incubating them before releasing the young turtles to the sea, hence helping to maintain the species’ population.
The already good results observed on the site regarding the protection of green turtles, and its recent designation as an EBSA, suggest possibilities of fruitful synergies between Nature Tropicale and the GIZMaC project in the coming months, especially bearing in mind the future creation of an MPA. Mr. Bodjrenou added: “We hope that the implementation of an MPA in this area will allow volunteers to receive the necessary support enabling them to better carry out their essential actions for the protection of the Atlantic coast’s marine resources”.