According to experts, Gabon is a world leader in ocean protection.
The country on the west coast of Africa provides a model that could be used in many other countries, according to a new paper compiled by Gabonese policy makers and researchers from the University of Exeter, UK.
Gabon’s network of marine protected areas (MPAs) is quite unique. Since announcing its new network of MPAs in 2014, the country has created 20 protected areas, increasing the protection of Gabon’s waters from less than 1% to 26%.
MPAs are protected areas of the seas, oceans, estuaries or Great Lakes. They restrict human activity for conservation purposes, usually to preserve natural or cultural resources.
Global coverage of MPAs still falls short of the 10% target set in 2010, in part because of limited progress in many low- and middle-income countries.
It was originally agreed by Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity twelve years ago and has also been adopted by United Nations Member States as part of Sustainable Development Goal 14.
So what is Gabon doing differently?
Only a few countries – including Gabon – have met or exceeded international commitments on land and sea.
“Collective action has accelerated progress and the country is now committed to the 30×30 pledge to protect 30% of its oceans by 2030,” says Dr Emma Stokes, Regional Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society for Central Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.
“This political will and long-term commitment was essential – creating a ‘tipping point’ for effective change.”
Gabon’s MPAs form an interconnected network designed to protect important habitats, as well as globally significant populations of sea turtles and marine mammals. The protected areas extend from north to south and from coastal waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore.
The new document argues that lessons from Gabon can be used to inform post-2020 global biodiversity commitments and implementation.
It proposes a four-step approach for countries and donors:
- Governments need to build and sustain their research and implementation capacity, ensuring that scientific evidence underpins policy decisions.
- Countries should make public pledges on marine conservation targets, signaling their commitment to the international community and potential donors.
- The conservation community should respond by helping to create or strengthen the country’s environmental agencies, either directly or, if financial guarantees are weak, through international organizations.
- Each implementing agency should lead the development of national marine conservation frameworks, working with stakeholders and donors to produce ambitious yet politically feasible plans.
“Gabon has taken significant steps to ensure the long-term persistence of its marine biodiversity and fisheries resources, and should be celebrated as a global example,” says Professor Brendan Godley from the University of Exeter.
What else is Gabon famous for in the field of the environment?
In 2021, Gabon became the first country in Africa to be paid to reduce carbon emissions and forest degradation.
Gabon’s forests cover 88% of the country and are home to unique wildlife, including 60% of the world’s remaining forest elephants. Trees absorb a total of 127 million tonnes of CO2 each year, which is equivalent to removing 30 million cars from the world’s roads.
The €14 million reward was based on an independent assessment of the country’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in 2016 and 2017.
Gabon has also made significant progress in the sustainable management of its timber resources, with the ambition to ensure that all forest concessions are FSC certified.