Mangrove Restoration Training Motivates a Sierra Leone Coastal Community to Expand its Restoration Efforts

Mangrove Restoration Training Motivates a Sierra Leone Coastal Community to Expand its Restoration Efforts
August 26, 2019 2:21 pm Blog,Uncategorized

As rising sea levels threaten West Africa’s coasts, communities large and small are looking to mangrove restoration as an essential protective measure. However, getting a mangrove nursery off the ground requires three to six months of dedicated community inputs including time and labor, and finding sufficient time and energy can be a struggle given other demands on community members.

That’s why the Gbongboma community stands out starkly. Of the 24 communities that the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) Program works with in coastal Sierra Leone to restore degraded mangrove areas, Gbongboma has proved itself the most innovative and self-driven when it comes to mangrove restoration. Not only did they reach their restoration goals – they exceeded them!

Gbongboma is a small rural community of about 90 people and depends largely on subsistence farming, fishing and harvesting and selling oysters to make ends meet. After only two years of engagement with WA BiCC, the people of Gbongboma in the Sherbro River Estuary had met their self-established goal of restoring 0.55 hectares of degraded area in their community.

Having met their initial goal earlier than planned, the community’s Restoration Committee and its Chairman decided to restore another site comprising 1.25 ha of degraded mangroves, which brought the total area of restored forest to 1.8 ha, more than double the initial target. To grow the number of mangrove seedlings needed to restore this expanded site, the community used all the polythene bags provided at the start of the restoration training effort, and members of the community Mangrove Restoration Committee put extra effort into improvising by using empty water sachets as seedling containers. This adaptive approach to meet their expanded restoration commitments provided a lesson for WA BiCC – to use local materials such as abandoned plastic bags for seedling containers, thus introducing less plastic into the community. The approach also came with the advantage of reducing the quantity of plastic introduced into the environment and eliminating polythene bags that would have otherwise had a strong chance of contributing to marine plastic pollution. With limited assistance from outside groups, members of the Gbongboma Mangrove Restoration Committee established, maintained and expanded the nursery, leading to an increase of seedlings planted in degraded areas.

Figure 2 Map showing Gbongboma in Bonthe District, Sherbro River Estuary
Map showing Gbongboma in Bonthe District, Sherbro River Estuary


Before the restoration efforts commenced, fifteen members of the Committee received training from WA BiCC in identifying different mangrove species and establishing and maintaining nurseries. While this technical training was important for successful nursery establishment at the outset, local knowledge was instrumental in Gbongboma’s nursery expansion efforts. When the WA BiCC team returned and assessed the expansion site, the team found that the community’s knowledge of the area’s ecology, hydrology and sediment had led them to a plot perfect for mangrove restoration underscoring the absolute necessity to understand the wealth of local knowledge when partnering with local communities for mangrove restoration or other initiatives.

Understanding what motivated this community to so effectively engage and exceed their targets provides insight into how to possibly motivate neighboring communities. What factors contributed to this success? According to Musa Lahai, the Chairman of the Restoration Committee, the Gbongboma community was motivated to continue restoration because they had witnessed the negative environmental impacts that followed the degradation of their mangrove forests. The community made the connection between the rapid erosion of their roads and the destruction of their bridges to the cutting of mangroves for fuelwood and oyster harvesting.

Figure 3:: Gbongboma Community, Bonthe Sherbro, Southern Sierra Leone
Gbongboma Community, Bonthe Sherbro, Southern Sierra Leone


“(We) made a collective decision that we must restore it to prevent further degradation,” he said. “We took this action without thinking of any compensation because we know it was for the good of our community.”

The community members’ decision to independently expand the project is an encouraging sign that Gbongboma is on its way to a more resilient future – and has important lessons to share with neighboring communities and beyond.

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