Mapping of the Sherbro River Estuary: A Step Toward Biodiversity Protection in Sierra Leone

Mapping of the Sherbro River Estuary: A Step Toward Biodiversity Protection in Sierra Leone
December 4, 2019 12:53 pm Blog

By Zebedee Njisuh, WA BiCC Landscape Manager

The recent field mapping exercise of the Sherbro River Estuary (SRE) marked a fresh approach to field mapping in Sierra Leone; one that recognized community members as important stakeholders to environmental sustainability.

The mapping activity is a collaborative effort among USAID’s West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) program, local communities, and various government stakeholders to sustain the rich biodiversity of Sierra Leone and the SRE. Samuel Ibrahim Kobah, the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer of the National Protected Areas Authority/Conservation Trust Fund Sierra Leone (NPAA/CTF), said of his experience with the initiative: “This is the first time I have seen this collaboration in the mapping of a protected area in Sierra Leone.”

Inhabitants of the marine-protected area and the government of Sierra Leone have welcomed this approach, as it will enable key stakeholders to manage and sustain the coastal landscape. Field mapping involves the collection and processing of data that will provide a clear understanding of the spatial distribution of mangroves and other coastal land use and land cover systems in the SRE.

The mapping exercise was part of the process of developing a co-management plan for the coastal region which, with its rich presence of mangroves along the major rivers and tidal creeks, represents one of Sierra Leone’s biodiversity hotspots. Aside from the important role mangroves play in the livelihood of coastal dwellers, they also serve as fish breeding sites and protect coastal communities from flooding and erosion. Despite their undeniable importance, mangroves are under increasing threat of destruction.

Benefits of the Mapping Exercise

Prior to the field mapping exercise, community members were trained on the basics of handling and using the mapping tools, including the geographic positioning system unit (GPS).

“This geographic information systems (GIS) training introduced me to the use of Trimble GPS, and [taught me how] to distinguish between management information systems and GIS,” Kobah said.

People on a boat.
Some members of the mapping team on Sherbro River Estuary.


Maps in Sierra Leone are usually produced by government agencies with little or no involvement of the surrounding communities. This mapping exercise gave trained community members the opportunity to participate in orienting the mapping group in the field. This process cultivated a better understanding of the existing district, chiefdom, and community boundaries in the area.

“Before going to the field, I could only imagine things in my head,” said James A.S Lahai, the Acting Paramount Chief of Bagruwa Chiefdom. “But after this exercise, I can say that I have a better appreciation of the Bagruwa chiefdom boundaries on the ground.”

Kobah echoed his sentiment. “I have worked with NPAA/CTF for four years now. Participating in the field mapping of the SRE offered me the first opportunity of understanding the differences between the chiefdom and district boundaries. Now I have a better comprehension of the layout and distribution of the Sherbro River Estuary.”

A group of people gathered for a meeting.
Participants during the mapping training in Bonthe.


Participants of the mapping exercise also learned about the significance of environmental sustainability in the region and observed resource-use conflicts, which improved their understanding of the importance of WA BiCC’s conservation activities.

This was certainly the case for Yaya Fofana from Yargoi.

“Through this mapping exercise, I was able to see that large areas of mangroves have been destroyed in Senjehou community by people coming from Bendu Cha (Chiefdom), because the former have exhausted their mangrove resources,” he explained. “This could be an area of conflict if nothing is done.”

Likewise, according to Munda Beah, a counselor of Bonthe Municipal Council, the mapping exercise taught him that people were harvesting and clearing mangrove wood indiscriminately in the estuary.

Based on the accounts of community members, the mapping process was also beneficial for capacity building and personal development.

“With the knowledge gained from the training and field work, I will be able to apply for a job in any new similar project that comes to the chiefdom,” Lahai said. He added that he will use this knowledge to analyze proposals submitted to the village council on mining prospection in the chiefdom.

Looking Ahead: Planning for Sustainability

Kobah described the maps produced from the exercise as very valuable resources to his institution for the management of the SRE.

“I realized that the SRE is the richest estuary in Sierra Leone in terms of biodiversity abundance. Based on this knowledge, in the future, NPAA will be able to better guide researchers in the SRE and develop projects on threatened and endangered species in the estuary,” he said. “Before this exercise, we had turned down research projects from foreign institutions seeking to do work on manatees and sawfish.”

Two people standing in a boat.
Samuel Ibrahim Kobah at the mapping exercise on Sherbro River Estuary.


The next activity towards developing the co-management plan for the SRE is the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). The PRA is a consultative meeting with community members in the coastal region, with the goal of enabling and empowering them to add their voices to the management strategy of the rich biodiversity wetland.

While the mapping process is far from perfect—the process could have included women and youth, for example—there was consensus that the exercise will help individuals enhance their livelihoods and contribute to the preservation of the SRE’s unique biodiversity.



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