posted on November 12, 2014 03:57
The Government of Gabon has announced the decision to create a new marine protected area network of ten marine parks covering more than 18,000 square miles (over 46,000 square kilometres) that will safeguard whales, sea turtles, and other marine species inhabiting the country’s coastal and offshore ecosystems -- a network of marine parks covering about 23% of Gabon's territorial waters and EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone).
The announcement was made by His Excellency The President of Gabon Ali Bongo Ondimba in Sydney as the world's conservationists gather for the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress.
Said President Ali Bongo Ondimba: "Today I can announce our decision to create a network of marine parks covering about 23% of Gabon's territorial waters and EEZ, within which no commercial fishing will be allowed. This will include a 27,000 square kilometer extension of Mayumba National Park, extending out to the limit of our EEZ. The remainder of the EEZ will be divided into community and commercial fishing zones and oil exclusion zones, where industrial fishing is not allowed close to strategic infrastructure."
The new Gabon marine protected area network complements an existing terrestrial protected area system anchored by 13 national parks created in 2002.
“Gabon will become the first Central African Nation to protect its marine resources with the establishment of a marine protected area network,” said John Robinson, Wildlife Conservation Society Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science and IUCN Vice President. “This announcement by President Ali Bongo Ondimba is a great way to start the IUCN World Parks Congress which aims to show that protected areas are vital to securing Earth’s biodiversity.”
The parks will protect more than 20 species of whales and dolphins, including humpback whales and Atlantic humpback dolphins, four species of marine turtles including the world’s largest breeding leatherback turtle population and the Atlantic Ocean’s largest breeding olive ridley turtle population. More than 20 species of sharks and rays occur in Gabon’s waters, many of which are threatened, including great hammerhead sharks, manta rays, whale sharks and tiger sharks.
"WCS Gabon extends congratulations to President Ali Bongo Ondimba," said Gaspard Abitsi, WCS Gabon Country Director. "We are honored to partner with the Government of Gabon to help protect our nation's natural heritage."
“By scaling marine protected areas and other conservation measures across the entirety of its EEZ, on this massive scale, Gabon is setting an example for the world,” said Caleb McClennen, WCS Marine Program Executive Director. “This new marine protected area system will help protect the country’s marine wildlife, while taking significant steps to curtail unregulated and unsustainable fishing which plagues much of Africa’s coastal waters."
The proposed creation of Gabon’s marine park system represents years of effort by the Gabonese government and President Ali Bongo Ondimba to increase Gabon’s marine conservation laws and protected areas.
Said Hugo Rainey, Senior Technical Advisor (Seascape) with WCS Gabon: "Gabon's President has assured the conservation of the globally important breeding populations of whales and turtles found here. By announcing the creation of community fishing zones Gabon's President is also guaranteeing the livelihoods of the people of the country too."
Creators of the new marine protected area system used data collected over two decades of work by WCS Gabon, Gabon’s Agence Nationale de Parcs Nationaux (ANPN) and the University of Exeter to identify priority areas for parks. This includes a 3-week expedition mounted by WCS, ANPN, the Waitt Institute and the National Geographic Society to survey bottom habitats and collect data on the biodiversity and health of Gabon’s marine environment. The Waitt Institute provided important technical expertise and operational support for the expedition. The Waitt Foundation's partnership with WCS has played a critical role in advancing these efforts.
National Geographic’s Enric Sala and WCS conservationist Mike Fay led the research team on these underwater surveys of previously undocumented reefs, sea floors, and lagoons. More than a decade before, Fay led another team of explorers on a terrestrial survey through an intact forest corridor stretching from Congo to coastal Gabon, an astounding 2,000 mile (3,200 kilometer) journey. Called the “Megatransect,” the project had the objective of bringing to the world’s attention the last pristine forest in central Africa and the need for protection. This work led to a historic initiative by the Gabonese Government to create a system of 13 national parks in Gabon, making up some 11,000 square miles (28,500 square kilometers).
For the past 25 years, WCS has worked closely with the Government of Gabon to create the country’s first national park system, designed to save the country’s magnificent tracts of intact forest and abundant wildlife. This major triumph for conservation was accomplished in 2002 with the establishment of thirteen new national parks. Today, led by the new President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, the commitment to conservation remains strong and there is already recognition that the existing network of marine protected areas is inadequate to preserve the country’s ocean wildlife and marine resources. Since the formal establishment of its Congo Basin Coast program in 2009, WCS is working in close collaboration with the Gabonese Government and the ANPN in order to meet the President’s commitment to expanding marine protected areas and assist in developing no-take reserves (where fishing is banned) in existing protected areas.