'Become a superhero: plant your mangrove today', declared the poster.
Eager to join the pantheon of mangrove superheroes we headed to the
Saloum Delta in Senegal where the world's largest ever mangrove planting project is underway. Organised by local NGO, Oceanium, almost 30 million mangroves have been planted since June.
The mangrove itself is a hero among flora. It provides firewood for cooking and smoking fish, branches for tortoise-shaped village rooftops,
and breeding grounds for countless species of fish, including oysters
that cling stubbornly to the mangroves' spider-like roots.
Abdoulaye Diouf, Chef de Zone in Sandicoly, tells us that the fishermen
had noticed a decline in the number of fish in recent years. This was
attributed to over-fishing and a decline in mangrove coverage caused by unseasonal heavy rains.
As well as replenishing depleted mangrove stocks, Jean Goepp, Oceanium's Project Coordinator, says that the project teaches people to conserve their resources.
'People must re-plant their common resources, not just their gardens,' he says. Mr Diouf says the village is now aware that it must use all its resources sustainably - the sea, forest and mangroves.
The mangroves were chosen as the resource to launch this
behaviour-changing initiative because once planted they require no human input. Occupying the swampy inter-tidal zone they require no watering and are naturally protected from bush fires and hungry cattle.
80,000 people have been involved in the project, planting and collecting
seedlings from the flowering mangrove trees for which they are paid
1,000 CFA (about £1.50) per sack. Oceanium provides a financial
incentive to the community as well.
Planting is simple. You create a hole in the wet inter-tidal sand with
an extended index finger and plug it with a seedling. Superhero status
is easily attained, but well deserved.
In Sandicoly, the project has been accompanied by footballing success
and the village is through to the regional cup final. They will use the
mangrove money to take their supporters to the match. It will be ice
creams all round as the mangrove superheroes cheer on their footballing stars.
Atlantic Rising project website