This three year Darwin funded project is working with selected communities around the Sherbro River Estuary in Southern Province, Sierra Leone to offer alternative sustainable income earning opportunities for local women in mangrove oyster cultivation and sales.
The majority of mangrove forests along the coastline and estuaries are being degraded by over harvesting of aquatic animals including shellfish as well as the associated mangrove trees which are being damaged by the unsustainable harvest of oysters, or cut down and used for firewood and the land then converted for rice cultivation, shrimp ponds or saltpans.
Despite these pressures, mangroves within the Sherbro River Estuary remain in quite good condition with good stands of all four main species. There are reliable reports of a range of threatened species including manatees and crocodiles as well as dolphins and marine turtles in the main channel. The area is an important bird area with extensive areas of sand and mud banks exposed at low tide. Like all mangroves they act as nursery for many species of finfish and shellfish.
The Sherbro River Estuary mangroves have been given general protection under the “Marine Protected Area” by a Gazetted Cabinet Conclusion. The enforcement of these regulations relies almost entirely on “local management committees” (LMCs). The success of these committees will rely in large part on there being alternative livelihoods available to those prevented from harvesting aquatic resources in strictly protected areas.
This project will work with oyster harvesters to increase the value of their products through marketing initiatives and extending products' shelf life. This will have wider benefits of encouraging more prudent management of the mangrove forests, thereby reducing deforestation through harvesting of roots on which the oysters grow. It is hoped that the project will result in a women's mangrove oyster marketing cooperative, promoting the 'Sherbro brand' and training on successful post-harvest technologies.