- The government of Guinea-Bissau has received a donation of two patrol boats from environmental groups to protect its many marine parks. The two boats are part of a West African coastal zone and marine regional conservation programme, and are to be used in the Joćo Vieira-Poilćo and Orango National Parks, both located in Guinea-Bissau's Bijagos Biosphere Reserve.
The donation was today announced by the conservation group WWF, on behalf of several West African regional environmental organisations. The two boats have been built in neighbouring Senegal and are therefore specially adapted to local conditions.
Along with the three patrol boats provided by WWF's Western African Marine Ecoregion to the Banc d'Arguin National Park in Mauritania in 1999, the two national parks in Guinea-Bissau are the first marine protected areas (MPA) in West Africa to have access to such state-of-the-art boats.
- This boat is a precious asset for the park, said Augusto da Silva, sailor and warden of the Orango National Park. "Through regular patrols we will be able to strengthen our efforts to regulate fishing access to the park's valuable marine resources," Mr da Silva added.
The Orango National Park represents one of the most intact mangrove forests in the region, providing a vital nursery and development habitats for important species of fish, crustaceans, and shellfish. However, overfishing has threatened the ecosystem's viability in recent years, according to WWF.
- Simply patrolling with an official boat will be a strong deterrent for fishermen who would otherwise try to use especially sensitive areas which have been put off limits for fishing, noted Joćo Perreira, a sailor and warden at the Joćo Vieira-Poilćo National Park. "It will also be an important tool to allow our conservation officers to improve public awareness and surveillance programmes," he added.
The boat for the Joćo Vieira-Poilćo National Park is expected to make weekly patrols in the park's no-fishing zones. Multi-day patrols were said to be "essential" for covering the 60 square kilometres of the park, including Poilćo Island - the most important nesting site for green turtles in the eastern Atlantic. Over 7,000 females nest and lay there eggs on the island each year.
The Bijagos archipelago off the Bissau-Guinean coast is regarded the country's most valuable ecological zone. The islands, dashed with mangroves and tropical beaches, are also believed to have a significant eco-tourism potential.
The government of Guinea-Bissau, despite its poor financial situation, has been able to manage the Bijagos Biosphere Reserve - a special internationally recognised protection - fairly well during years of political crises. Bissau is currently planning to increase the reserve and to add the island of Bolama. The town and island of Bolama are also candidates for UNESCO's World Heritage List.
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