The President of Gabon announces that he has established marine protected areas in over 23 percent of Gabon's territorial waters.
President Ali Bongo of Gabon announced at the World Parks Congress opening ceremony in Sydney in 2014, that he was establishing marine protected areas in over 23 percent of Gabon’s territorial waters. This is a massive increase from the one percent of marine area currently protected by Gabon. Tullow Oil and the Wildlife Conservation Society played a key role in making this happen.
Tullow has been working in Gabon for over ten years and recently sponsored a $1.5 million dollar marine environmental research programme in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The findings of the research, which were gathered over 2.5 years, contributed to the creation of a national marine spatial plan, and the first network of marine protected areas in Central Africa.
The Tullow funded study helped complete research which has spanned two decades of work by WCS Gabon, Gabon’s Agence Nationale de Parcs Nationaux and the University of Exeter. The study of the biodiversity and health of Gabon’s marine environment also provided data and underwater surveys on previously undocumented reefs, sea floors and lagoons.
The protected area network will be made up of ten marine parks to cover 23% of Gabon’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where no commercial fishing will be allowed. The area will include a 27,000 square kilometre extension of the Mayumba National Park and in total over 46,000 square kilometres will be dedicated to safeguard whales, sea turtles and other marine species inhabiting the country’s coastal and offshore ecosystems.
The President also announced six new community fisheries zones, which will safeguard local livelihoods based on sustainable fishing and the exclusion of industrial fisheries.
This new area will help protect the country’s marine wildlife while taking significant steps to curtail unregulated and unsustainable fishing, as well as guarantee the livelihoods of the coastal communities in Gabon.
The parks will protect more than 20 species of whales and dolphins (including humpback whales and Atlantic humpback dolphins) and four species of marine turtles (among them 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.
Importantly, by working collaboratively with both the researchers and government, Tullow has helped raise the profile of the constructive role the oil industry can play. Alongside the newly designated protected areas, the marine spatial planning process has also identified areas where oil industry activity is allowed but fisheries are excluded. This approach not only increases the safety and security around oil installations, but also acts to create additional safeguards so that biodiversity can thrive. This win-win approach sets new precedents for the legal framework around conservation and oil industry activity, which will help raise the standards in other locations as well demonstrating Tullow’s commitment to responsible operations.