I first visited Banc d’Arguin in 2003. Its beauty was a revelation but it’s not well-known. It is hardly featured in school or on TV, even in Mauritania. When I saw it, I somehow knew I had a responsibility to family and country but never dreamt I’d later work and study here.

Mauritania (c) Hellio van Ingen

Early warning system

A fascinating ecosystem of vast intertidal mudflats, a migration hotspot for over two million birds, and a vital habitat for turtles and marine life, Banc d’Arguin is dominated by seagrass meadows. A good indicator of overall ecosystem health, they make the park a global early warning system for climate change. And having analysed 40 years’ worth of satellite imagery, Sidi probably knows more about seagrass cover than anyone else.

Seagrass cover has increased since the ’70s but its value isn’t understood by managers or investors – the system is vulnerable. A healthy Banc d’Arguin means productive fisheries, erosion control and national prosperity: conservation should be a priority for Mauritania.

Hidden treasure

Sidi’s research is helping put numbers on Banc d’Arguin’s total economic value. Knowing the carbon sequestration potential of its seagrass beds will open opportunities for ‘blue carbon’ investment and support conservation. Uncovering this hidden treasure, has long motivated Sidi, whatever the challenges.

Seagrass follow-up (c) Sidi Cheikh

When some researchers from Groningen University visited the Banc d’Arguin, I decided I wanted to do a PhD. So, I went to the UAE in 2009 to the Dubai School of Government to study public communications and learn English. And in 2012, I went to the Netherlands.

Exploring mangrove of Banc d'Arguin (c) Sidi Sheikh

For love of opportunity

With opportunities in meteorology in short supply when he graduated in 1998, Sidi took a job as a maths teacher in Maaden, a remote but beautiful oasis town under big horizons in the north of Mauritania – the beginning of a long journey for love of country.

If you want to accomplish something, you just need to start. I’d like to improve things in my country and support a clear Government vision – we don’t need to destroy nature to become rich. People must understand nature supports jobs and a good quality of life.

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