Congo creates first Marine Protected Areas

The Republic of Congo has established its first Marine Protected Areas (MPA), supported by a research team including the University of Exeter and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The three new MPAs will protect more than 4,000 square kilometers (1,500 square miles) of the West African coast – covering 12% of Congo’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

The area includes globally important nesting sites for leatherback turtles and critical migratory and breeding habitats for marine mammals, including Atlantic humpback whales.

The new MPAs are home to more than 40 species of sharks and rays, including the world’s largest fish, the open ocean whale shark.

Congo’s Forest Economy Minister Rosalie Matondo said the creation of MPAs was the “culmination of a long process” that began years ago when the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) helped identify areas suitable for protection.

He added: “I would like to thank our partners who continue their efforts to conserve biodiversity in the Congo, especially WCS, for their multilateral support of this conservation effort.”

The establishment of the MPA is part of the national Marine Spatial Plan approved in 2019 under the Congo Sea Initiative with the support of WCS, University of Exeter and local NGO Renatura.

The plan identified 11 possible MPAs in Congo’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and the first three have now been officially announced.

The three MPAs are: Gabon, Loango MPA and the marine extension to Conkouati-Douli National Park along the border with Mwassa MPA.

Exeter’s contribution includes working with small-scale fishermen, learning when and where they fish and ensuring they are represented in the decision-making process.

“We started work in the Congo in 2013 and helped launch the Congo Sea in 2016,” said Dr. Christian Metcalf said.

“Since then, we have worked with a wide range of partners and stakeholders on consultation, building local research capacity and analyzing data on Congo’s marine biodiversity and habitats.

“Creating an effective MPA network is not a quick process, so we are pleased to see Congo’s first three MPAs announced after many years of hard work by a wide range of people and organisations.

“This is not the end of our work – we now need to monitor these MPAs, measure their effectiveness and ensure they are improving Congo’s marine environment.”

In 2016, WCS socio-economic surveys showed that 49% of small-scale fishers experienced loss or damage due to illegal industrial fishing vessels.

“Fishermen are sometimes afraid to fish in the sea because they are afraid of encountering big boats, especially at night,” Bondi Coastal Village Chief Martin Safou said during a community consultation.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing threatens the exceptional biodiversity of Congolese waters, as well as the livelihoods of thousands of small-scale fishermen who are actively involved in the creation of MPAs.

The creation of MPAs that provide community fishing zones is intended to be an effective deterrent to illegal and unregulated fishing.

WCS Congo Country Director Richard Malonga said: “It is great to note that the WCS Congo program’s support to the government is being capitalized on through the creation of these MPAs and the expansion of the offshore Conkouati National Park.

“Today, the Republic of Congo has optimized its participation in international efforts to protect the marine environment.”

Congo is the latest West African country to establish MPAs, following in the footsteps of Gabon and Ivory Coast.

Research reveals the true extent of sea turtle conservation success

Provided by the University of Exeter

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