Gabon finds itself at a crucial crossroad. This small country that is both wild and striving for modernity has all the elements to become a showcase of what “green growth” – a much-touted but sometimes intangible concept – really is.
Straddling the equator and situated on the Atlantic coast of Africa, Gabon’s natural riches are many – over three quarters of its land surface is covered by tropical rain forest (the kind that teems with elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees), and this landscape is bathed by a network of life-sustaining rivers most of which remain untamed.
Gabon is also endowed with oil and minerals whose exploitation has fueled economic growth in the past few decades. The country is poised to continue its growth trajectory, but has committed to doing so in a sustainable way, a way that smartly uses and protects its natural capital over the long-term: the nation’s “Emerging Gabon” vision is sustained by a “Green Gabon” pillar.
The Nature Conservancy is working in Gabon to support the government and its citizens as they test approaches towards achieving this vision, with a focus on securing the sound management and conservation of its freshwater resources.
A FRESHWATER FOCUS
In Gabon, the Conservancy aims to innovate and implement sustainable development solutionsthat provide for economic growth and preserve natural diversity while maintaining the essential services — like food and clean water — that rivers provide.
To do so, we place a strong focus on the Ogooué River basin, a basin that covers over 70% of the country and is almost fully contained within Gabon. Securing the ecological functions of the Ogooué basin over the long term is vital to securing the protection of the country’s freshwater resources.
A Framework for Basin Management
River basins are ideal planning and management landscape units: they demonstrate the interconnectedness of natural systems – how what happens on land affects the water and how what happens in the water affects land-based activities. Approaching conservation from a basin perspective allows for an integrated process that includes multiple sectors and balances multiple needs in a complementary manner.
The Conservancy is dedicated to securing the long-term health of Gabon’s rivers and basins through the development and testing of management decision-support tools that address the dual needs of conservation and development at a basin-wide scale. Through this effort we’re engaging in deploying science that supports policy, and in reinforcing in-country capacity so that Gabonese professionals are best equipped to address the pressing challenges with which they are faced.
Freshwater Resources Stewardship
Gabon’s conservation commitment is clearly demonstrated by the designation of over 10% of the country as national parks, and a similar proportion as Ramsar sites. But while national parks have benefited from the National Parks Agency and NGO expertise, Ramsar sites — a designation for wetlands of international importance — have lacked the needed support to see them valued and effectively managed.
Together with government agencies, the Conservancy brings its expertise to strengthen protected area stewardship and promote best management practices that reduce impacts on water quality stemming from industrial development within critical areas of the river basins, and promote community stewardship of the valued resources.
Environmentally-friendly Water Infrastructure
Under the “Emerging Gabon” vision, Gabon’s future economic development is based in large part on harnessing its hydropower potential. With this in mind, the Conservancy is proposing the application of a pragmatic approach called Hydropower by Design, which plans for appropriate location and design of future dams in order to secure desired energy output with the least environmental impact possible. This approach is complemented by an ecosystem services valuation framework to ensure that future development accounts for the benefits provided to people and economic activities by healthy, functional ecosystems.
As Africa’s newest program, the Conservancy’s work in Gabon is proceeding stepwise in order to build a foundation based on appropriate knowledge and solid partnerships, and to demonstrate the value-added of our collaborative and science-based approach. Through the sponsorship of the Great Rivers Partnership program, the Conservancy launched its Gabon program in 2013. To date, we have prioritized activities that generate a better understanding of freshwater biodiversity and its benefits for, and use by, the people of Gabon.
Mapping Gabon’s Freshwater Resources
The Freshwater Atlas of Gabon is an ambitious effort coordinated by the Conservancy in response to the need for improving the information available to decision-makers to sustainably manage and conserve Gabon’s aquatic resources. It combines the best available scientific data to determine Gabon’s freshwater ecosystems and services, and assess their ecological integrity using sophisticated mapping, analysis and modeling methodologies.
Field Assessments of Aquatic Biodiversity
Large swaths of Gabon still remain uncharted, and sizable segments of its rivers remain unexplored. Improving management and conservation plans for the national parks and Ramsar sites, and identifying how management actions protect biodiversity and how development activities impact them, necessitates a better understanding of Gabon’s biodiversity. The Conservancy is co-leading a series of biodiversity assessment missions to key parts of Gabon, such as the one chronicled in this interactive Story Map.
Assessing the Potential for Community-based Fisheries
In 2014, the Conservancy began supporting the efforts of OELO, a conservation NGO working in the lakes region of the lower Ogooué coastal plain to develop a community-based sustainable fishing initiative. This project aims to develop a model for community-based fishery management for this and other communities by analyzing important fish population dynamics and assessing the fishing activity of local villagers.
A VISION OF SUSTAINABILITY
Gabon has the opportunity and the vision to develop sustainably, without compromising the natural services that people and nature need to thrive. The Conservancy is providing tested tools, expertise and resources to Gabon to help make this vision a reality.
Join an international team of scientists as they document Gabon's great river's biodiversity.
Africa Director David Banks discusses his recent visit to Gabon’s great river.