Amongst West African countries, Cape Verde has by far the largest area of ocean – it is three times larger than the next significant marine territory in the region and covers close to 40 per cent of national waters in the region. Cape Verde is also a global hotspot for marine wildlife with many emblematic and unique marine animals.
Cape Verdean waters are home to at least 60 shark and ray species, including the striking hammerhead shark and graceful manta ray. More than 20 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises can be found there. I will never forget how, the first time I came to Maio Island, dozens and dozens of dolphins surrounded our boat, dancing on the waves at sunrise!
Cape Verdean beaches provide globally important nesting areas for the world’s second largest turtle, the loggerhead, and all five endangered sea turtle species feed in its coastal waters. Because of this vast array of marine life and important costal ecosystems, we hope that with the ‘flick of a pen’ by the government, key areas in these waters will soon become fully protected. This would make Cape Verde a leader for ocean conservation in West Africa, hopefully inspiring others to protect their marine national heritage as well.
- ©Loggerhead turtle hatchlings – only a few minutes old – on their way to the ocean (Rombo Islets, Cape Verde). © Elisa Dierickx
As for much of West Africa, illegal fishing presents a serious threat to Cape Verde’s marine wildlife, and also for the livelihoods of coastal fishing communities. On Maio Island – Fauna & Flora International’s main project area in the archipelago – nearly 80 per cent of the 7,000 residents depend on the ocean, with fish being a major source of food for many households.
Protecting key areas of the ocean around Cape Verde through the legal establishment of marine parks is a great first step towards protecting marine wildlife and fish stocks. Currently only 1 per cent of West African waters are legally protected, compared to some other places in the world the establishment of marine parks within this region is still at an early stage. However, the Cape Verdean and other African governments are working hard to catch up. Cape Verde has committed at the highest level to guarding its waters and marine wildlife, and plans to protect five percent of its waters by 2025. Due to the size of Cape Verde’s ocean territory, this would make a huge contribution towards the development of marine parks in West Africa.
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