In 2012, the State Department of the United States declared December 4 “Wildlife Conservation Day.” They wanted to highlight wildlife trafficking and illegal trade — and recognize the important work of conservationists around the world.
Poaching and wildlife trafficking is a complicated subject, sometimes more complicated than the prevailing narrative implies. Some animals like rhinos, elephants and tigers are the targets of high-profile organized crime syndicates. These groups trade in wildlife parts and support armed, military-style poaching units. But illegal trade and trafficking affects all kinds of species in different ways. For example, international trade has been detrimental to rosewood trees in the genus Dalbergia. People use rosewood for carving and instrument-making — and harvesting wild trees has decimated populations from Brazil to southern Asia.
But it’s not only illegal trafficking that harms wildlife populations. Legal harvesting — when left unchecked, unregulated or unmanaged — can be just as unsustainable and detrimental. Sometimes, legal hunting can be even more dangerous. Nowhere is this more clear than in the ocean.
Fishing is a multi-billion dollar, international industry. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), we harvested over 90 million metric tons of fish from the wild in 2016 alone. Most of that harvest is for direct human consumption, but some also goes to medicine production and agriculture. This industry is destroying ocean ecosystems. The FAO estimates that in 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were overfished and 59% were fished to their maximum. Only 7% of fish stocks were under-fished.
Yet fishing is also a major economic engine for communities around the world. In West Africa, many residents of coastal communities derive their income from fishing. These artisanal fishing operations compete for fish stocks with industrial trawlers, often from other countries. With all these different fishing operations, it’s easy to tip into overfishing. Many fish stocks in West Africa, much like the rest of the world, are dwindling.
Rainforest Trust is working with Conservation des Espèces Marines (CEM), a partner organization in Côte d’Ivoire, to address some of the issues with fisheries management and marine conservation.
The Côte d’Ivoire coast is home to a variety of marine species, many of which have widespread or global ranges. The waters are home to Silky Sharks, Spinner Sharks, Tiger Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks and other fish like grouper, Bentfin Devil Rays and guitarfish. Reef areas contain communities of coral, sponges, mollusks and algae. Creatures as large and iconic as Whale Sharks and Blue Marlin pass through deeper waters.
The region is also home to multiple sea turtle species. Critically Endangered Hawksbill Turtles and Endangered Green Turtles live in these reefs year-round. Green Turtles, as well as Vulnerable Olive Ridleys and Leatherbacks, also use the beaches to lay eggs during nesting season. These young turtles are a vital part of the global populations of these threatened species. To protect this habitat, Rainforest Trust and CEM are currently working together to protect over 12,000 acres of coastal beach and forest. This area will protect some of the most important sea turtle nesting sites in West Africa.
But now, Rainforest Trust’s work with CEM is expanding further into the ocean. This new project will create the 1.7 million-acre Grand-Béréby Marine Protected Area (MPA) and safeguard many of the species that call these waters home. Grand-Béréby will be Côte d’Ivoire’s first MPA and a vital step in protecting West African marine ecosystems.
Currently, both small-scale artisanal fishers and industrial trawlers fish in this area of the ocean. Both forms of fishing are legal in Côte d’Ivoire. But the MPA will designate different zones for different uses to create a more sustainable fishing industry. Some areas will be “no-take” zones, allowing no fishing of any kind. But some zones will be fair-use zones or community fishing zones where fishermen can continue to work.
This project will put in place the legal requirements necessary for legislative protection, a management plan and surveillance mechanisms. CEM will also spearhead biodiversity impact assessments to monitor the ecosystem. In addition, they’ll continue their ongoing outreach work with communities bordering the coast. This work aims to build capacity and ensure that local stakeholders have a voice in conservation. CEM has been active in this part of the country for over 10 years, working on participatory ecosystem management and community development.
With the Grand-Béréby MPA, Côte d’Ivoire can prove its commitment to biodiversity conservation and sustainable fishing. This MPA could also be a model for future reserves in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere in West Africa. Studies have shown that the economic benefits of creating a sustainable fishing industry may exceed the initial costs of creating MPAs — meaning that the economics of this project may be especially replicable.
Protecting marine ecosystems is one of the best ways to conserve the scientific, cultural, ecological and economic value of the oceans. Rainforest Trust and CEM are excited to begin this process in Côte d’Ivoire and start to build a sustainable future for the country’s marine species.
And you can help — by donating to this project, you’ll fund MPA creation, management and community outreach around Grand-Béréby. Click here to donate now.