Guinea-Bissau is party to conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Law of the Sea and Wetlands. There are significant environmental issues including deforestation, soil erosion, overgrazing and overfishing. However, much of the country’s coastal area and inland forests are still in relatively good condition, and development has not affected the country as much as in other areas of West Africa. IUCN has led several conservation programmes in recent years, and still has an office in Bissau. Many of these programmes have resulted in awareness output and reports. Wetlands International has been working here on wetlands conservation issues since 2000, including a conservation programme for the Black Crowned Crane Balearica pavonina and waterbird surveys in the Bijagós. Of particular note, Guinea-Bissau is a member of sub-regional networks involved in the wise use management of coastal areas.
Guinea-Bissau has one Biosphere Reserve (the Bijagós Archipelago), two National Parks (Ilhas de Orango and João Vieira e Poilão Marine National Park) and two Natural Parks (Rio Cacheu and Lagoa de Cufada). Cufada is also the country’s only Ramsar Site, although several other sites easily meet Ramsar criteria, especially the Bijagós Archipelago.
The Bijagós Archipelago. The Arquipélago dos Bijagós (including the Bolama area) is composed of some 88 islands and islets and a large intertidal area of mudflats and mangroves. The archipelago is situated just off the coast, opposite the mouth of the Rio Gêba. The land area of the archipelago is some 90,000 ha, while a further 100,000 ha or so are uncovered twice daily by the retreating tide, of which at least 76,000 ha are mudflats and 35,000 ha mangroves. The islands also support forests, savannah and floodplains, as well as temporary and permanent agricultural areas.
There are two National Parks in the archipelago. The Ilhas de Orango National Park includes the most southerly group of islands, of which the main ones are Orango, Canogo, Imbone, Meneque and Orangozinho, with a combined land area of 27,000 ha. The boundary of the park extends to 10 km offshore, and the park includes forest, coastal wooded savanna, mangroves (17,400 ha), channels and shallow seas. The João Vieira e Poilão Marine National Park includes four small islands in the south-east of the archipelago and a large area (495 km2) of ocean (mostly excluded from the IBA). North-east of the Orango complex are the islands of Bubaque, Rubane, Soga and Canhabaque, with Galinhas lying between Rubane and Bolama. Bubaque is the main commercial and logistical centre of the Bijagós. The northernmost islands of Caravela, Carache, Formosa, Nago and Maio can almost be considered as an extension of the Canal do Gêba. In between this complex and the Orango group lie several smaller islands, including Enú, Uracane and Uno, west of which lie the more isolated Unhocomo and Unhocomozino.
The mudflats of the Bijagós Archipelago are very extensive, there being a tidal difference of about 4m between high and low water. The mudflats are of mixed sediment, whilst sandbars appear at low tide in the many channels between the islands. This area is second only in importance in West Africa to the Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania for the numbers of Palearctic waders present during the northern winter. It has been estimated that close to 900,000 birds occur in the archipelago at this time. Five species of marine turtle breed in the archipelago - Green Turtle Chelonia mydas, Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta, Olive Ridley Turtle Lepidochelys olivacea, Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata and Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea. The Ilhéu do Poilão is the most important nesting area for C. mydas in the eastern Atlantic. One of the largest West African Manatee Trichechus senegalensis populations in West Africa is found within the archipelago, whilst Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius, (West) African Dwarf Crocodile Osteolaemus tetrapsis and Atlantic Hump-backed Dolphin Sousa teuszii also occur here. Mangrove species include the rare Laguncularia racemosa. 282 bird species have been recorded here (DODMAN, T. et al 2004).
21 of the islands are permanently inhabited by a total population of some 25,000, as are a further 20 islands temporarily. The main ethnic group is the Bijagós, though there has been an influx of other groups, including fishing communities of Senegalese origin.
Lagoa de Cufada. This protected area at 11º43’N 15º02’W is designated as a Wetland of International Importance, Ramsar site no. 469, with a surface area of 39,098 ha. It is a large, permanent, freshwater lake, with abundant aquatic vegetation and adjoining river floodplain. It includes two smaller lakes, seasonally flooded marshes, fringing mangroves and extensive mudflats. A dozen small villages of several hundred people live within the site practising traditional fishing and rice production. The site also supports crocodiles and hippopotamus. Surrounding areas have been cleared for banana and cashew production or exploited for wood. Large expanses of vegetation are burned annually to facilitate hunting and shifting rice cultivation. We have heard from a recent visitor (March 2005) that the site is now practically inaccessible and the camp abandoned.
Parque Natural dos Tarrefes do Rio Cacheu (Rio Cacheu Mangroves Natural Park). This protected area is located on the northernmost of the rivers which dissect Guinea-Bissau. The area of the park includes land on both banks of the river. On the southern side, the site includes stretches from the town of Cacheu eastwards to opposite the village of Apilho, on the northern bank. The northern part of the park is situated nearer the coast and so overlaps only partially with the southern half. It extends from a point some 10 km east of Cacheu on the opposite bank to the Rio de Elia, near the estuary mouth, and inland almost as far as the town of São Domingos.
The area includes some 54,400 ha of mangroves and tanne, of which about 30,000 ha are mangroves, whilst semi-dry woodland and savanna extend to about 10,400 ha, and palm forest and agricultural land to about 9,600 ha. Areas occupied by riverine habitats extend to about 5,600ha. Large areas of mud and sandbanks are exposed at low tide. The park, especially the northern sector, includes one of the most extensive areas of mangroves in the country. The mangroves are very important as breeding areas for fish, crustaceans and molluscs, and also provide refuge for a large number of birds, many of them migratory. At least 180 bird species have been recorded here (DODMAN, T. et al 2004). West African Manatee Trichechus senegalensis occurs in the Cacheu river and its tributaries.
There are over 20 villages in the northern sector, and a population of over 7,000 belonging to six ethnic groups: Baiote, Ballante, Bahum, Cobiana, Felupe and Manjaque. The southern sector has 14 villages and over 800 inhabitants, comprising Cobiana and Manjaque ethnic groups. There are several sacred forests in the park, which are well preserved, representing ‘islands’ of high biodiversity. The most important agricultural activity is rice growing. In the northern sector, the rice is grown in flooded fields behind the mangroves (bolanhas), and some maize, nuts and manioc are also grown. Much agriculture is temporary, following the pampam system, which entails regular clearing of new agricultual land.