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Defending the largest marine protected area in Africa

Friday, Aug 04, 2017

As the United Nations begins discussions highlighting the importance of creating marine protected areas in waters on the high seas, Sea Shepherd applauds the Republic of Gabon's continued leadership in establishing marine protected areas in waters within national jurisdiction.

Dolphins jumping in Gabon's Marine Protected Area. Photo by Michael Rauch/Sea Shepherd.

On the 5th of June 2017, President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon announced the creation of nine new marine parks and 11 aquatic reserves, ensuring that more than 26% of Gabonese waters receive protection. This network of marine protected areas (MPAs) is the largest in Africa.

The protected area extends the aquatic boundaries of Mayumba National Park to the 200 nautical mile limit of Gabon’s economic exclusion zone (EEZ), where Sea Shepherd has assisted Gabonese authorities to make critical arrests of illegal trawlers on Operation Albacore, and protects the habitat of both demersal fish species that spawn at river mouths as well as habitat of migratory pelagic species like tuna.

The Presidential initiative to protect such a vast area of ocean, follows President Bongo’s creation of 13 national parks in 2002, protecting more than 10% of Gabon’s land area. Those conservation measures included the establishment of Loango National Park, also called ‘Africa’s Last Eden’ by National Geographic Explorer in Residence Mike Fay, whose historic 2,000 mile Megatransect trek from the Congo River Basin to the coast of Gabon helped lay the foundation for the Gabonese national park system.

For the past several years, Fay has been focusing his attention on protecting Gabon’s coastal areas, a passion that resulted in an invitation extended to Sea Shepherd to cooperate and collaborate with the government of Gabon stop illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

A family of elephants in Gabon's Mayumba National Park. Photo by Alejandra Gimeo/Sea Shepherd.

Since 2016, Sea Shepherd has been providing Gabonese authorities with a civilian offshore patrol vessel to expand existing monitoring, control and surveillance measures; to detect and deter IUU fishing activity while also monitoring legal compliance by licensed fishing operators.

In the course of those patrols, Sea Shepherd crew have witnessed the incredible biodiversity off Gabon’s shore including humpback whales, whale sharks and sea turtles, all of which are under threat from by-catch, another word for incidental catch in the fishing industry.

In 2016, Sea Shepherd crew assisted Gabonese authorities to free two Bryde’s whales, caught in purse-seine nets; and since 2016, five IUU vessels have been arrested in Gabonese waters with the support of Sea Shepherd.

The creation of the largest network of marine protection area in Africa is welcome news to a continent besieged by fishing piracy; a result of Gabon’s continued leadership in conservation management.

With new conservation laws and measures comes a need for increased law enforcement, which is why Sea Shepherd is committed to continuing our proud partnership with the Gabonese Navy, the Gabonese Fisheries Enforcement Agency and the Gabonese National Park Service in defense of ‘Africa’s Last Eden’.

Whale temporarily caught in a fishing net in Gabon. Photo Lukas Erichsen/Sea Shepherd.
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