Conserving one of the wonders of nature in West Africa – the Bijagos in Guinea-Bissau

The Bijagos Archipelago in Guinea-Bissau is one of the wonders of nature in West Africa. The 88 islands and islets hold important patches of pristine forests, savannas, extensive mudflats and white sand beaches. The Bijagos population shares this environment with thousands of migratory water birds and threatened species such as sea turtles and manatees.

This region is one of MAVA’s iconic sites. We support the Instituto para a Biodiversidade e as Areas Protegidas (IBAP), the administration in charge of protected areas in Guinea-Bissau, as well as its national and international partners, in management, public awareness, research applied to conservation and capacity building activities.

Below are some inspiring examples of the conservation work currently undertaken in the region under the coordination of IBAP and within the framework of our West Africa action plans aiming to conserve sea turtle breeding sites and to halt disturbance of shorebirds.

Creole ocean travellers

To promote the conservation of sea turtles in Guinea-Bissau, ISPA – Instituto Universitário, the University of Exeter, and the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon have partnered up with IBAP to study the movements of green turtles breeding in the Bijagos, where one of the largest rookeries in the world is located. During the 2018 nesting season, 20 satellite tracking devices were successfully deployed on female green turtles found nesting on Poilão island in order to understand the turtles’ connectivity with distant foraging grounds. First results show that some of the nesting females dwell between different islands in the Bijagos. In between clutches, others venture outside the limits of the marine protected area (MPA) of João Vieira and Poilão National Park, where the most important rookery is located. Others also forage in coastal waters of Guinea-Bissau and of neighbouring countries (The Gambia, Senegal and Mauritania). Unexpectedly, some adult green turtles seem to remain in the Archipelago, not migrating at all. The information collected during this research will be essential to review the limits of the MPA, to better understand the threats to this population outside the Park and to collaborate with sea turtle conservation projects elsewhere in the region.

To read more, download the full article here.

Where are the best wader canteens in the Bijagos?

Since 2017, a research team from the University of Lisbon has been working in close cooperation with IBAP, as part of the project “Waders of the Bijagós”. The objective is to understand and secure fundamental ecological processes, halt current threats to shorebirds and their habitats, and contribute to raising global public awareness on the importance of these islands so rich in biodiversity.

A local PhD student is assessing the contribution of mangrove forests in fuelling the shorebirds’ food webs in this tropical environment. Preliminary results suggest that the carbon that originates from the mangrove does not contribute significantly to the shorebirds’ food web, being mostly washed into the ocean, where it possibly plays an important role in sustaining fish stocks. Another key objective is to identify the best feeding areas for wading birds in the Bijagós. Prey is sampled (mostly invertebrates buried in the sediments), and intertidal habitats as well as wader distribution are mapped through regular bird counts in intertidal areas. With all this information, the University of Lisbon hopes to produce a global map of habitats and model habitat preferences of the different species involved, aiming to encourage the sustainable management of the area.

More details about this project to be posted soon!

Are the Bijagós a key “wader hub”?

The international project “Securing the ecological integrity of the Bijagos archipelago as a key site for waders along the East Atlantic Flyway”, coordinated by IBAP, aims to establish the levels of connectivity between the Bijagós and other sites along the flyway. To that end, a team from the University of Aveiro has initiated a colour-ringing programme to identify the hot spots used by migratory waders during the year. An extensive network of volunteers observing the birds all along the flyway is helping with this work. The team has so far identified 39 birds confirming individual connections between the Bijagos and different European countries. Preliminary results show that colour-ringing is essential to identify local movement patterns, although the use of electronic tracking devices attached to waders is also necessary to get information on the migratory routes of each individual bird. These devices will be deployed on different species in the next months, to better establish the links between the Bijagós “wader hub” and other locations across the flyway.

More details about this project to be posted soon!

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