Gabon No-take Expansion

Female Leatherback turtle

Along the Gabon and Congo coasts, the world’s largest population of leatherback turtles nest and humpback whales breed in the waters. Gabon's mangroves and lagoons are among the most pristine in Africa, brimming with hippos, crocodiles, West African manatees, and tarpon. Photo: Brian Skerry

Grant Recipient: Wildlife Conservation Society
Project Support: Gabon No-take Expansion
Term: 2011 – 2013

For the past 25 years, WCS has worked closely with the Government of Gabon to create the country’s first national park system, designed to save the country’s magnificent tracts of intact forest and abundant wildlife. This major triumph for conservation was accomplished in 2002 with the establishment of 13 new national parks. WCS remains an active conservation and management partner throughout Gabon’s national parks’ system, the Gabon Agence National des Parcs Nationaux. One of the Gabonese national parks, Mayumba, is already entirely a marine no-take zone. Three other parks that are terrestrial in nature border the coast and have marine buffer components. WCS also works directly with the management of the coastal and marine protected area (MPA) of Concouati-Douli National Park in the Republic of Congo.

New Laws, Rigorous Limits

The Government of Gabon made history in 2002 when they placed nearly 11 percent of their land area under permanent protection. Today, led by the new President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, the commitment to conservation remains strong and there is already recognition that the existing network of marine protected areas is inadequate to preserve the country’s ocean wildlife and marine resources.

wcs-gabon-map.jpgAs much as 60 percent of all fishing occurring in Gabonese waters is illegal, unreported, and/or unregulated (IUU), and public discontent is growing. President Ondimba has acknowledged that this fishing generates no measurable income for the country, while displacing subsistence fishing and placing additional pressures on terrestrial sources of protein, such as bushmeat. WCS formally established its Congo Basin Coast Program in 2009 with the purpose of assisting Gabon and its immediate neighbors, Congo and Equatorial Guinea, with significant expansion of MPAs–including improved enforcement of existing parks and extensive development of no-take grounds, often referred to in the region as no-go zones.

Through decades of close collaboration and mutual trust, WCS has developed a unique relationship with the Gabonese Government. The Director of the ANPN, under the authority of the President of Gabon, has asked WCS to provide, as soon as possible, the scientific and technical expertise necessary to implement new marine conservation laws. These will call for rigorous limits on fishing and the creation of MPAs within a system of expanded national parks. It is under this authority that, WCS will develop an ambitious plan for the rapid expansion of marine protected areas in Gabon and neighboring countries over the next several years. The Gabonese President himself has publicly committed to the expansion of marine protected areas through the creation of a Presidential Coastal Task Force, and has privately requested a clear proposal highlighting how to create no-take reserves in existing protected areas and establish new protected areas.


Through satellite tagging and comprehensive genetic analysis of humpback whales, WCS conducted the first comprehensive impact assessment of oil industry activities on marine species and habitats. Marine scientists also discovered rare humpback dolphins at four new sites.

Approach for New No-take Zones

WCS will execute this project in two overlapping phases:

1) Complete scientific assessment for no-take expansion: Needs and threats assessments, as well as the creation of a spatially-based database to guide recommendations of size and location for an expanded network of marine reserves;

2) Legal declaration of no-take protection for each new marine protected area: Government engagement and interaction at every step of the project, from initial concept endorsement through strategy validation and leadership advocacy.

WCS will work in close partnership with ANPN to meet the President’s demand for a dramatic increase, a minimum of 2,100 square kilometers, in officially declared no-take zones. This will be accomplished through a Presidential initiative for a new and expanded system of marine protected areas–justified by a science-based identification of the most important areas for designation across Gabon’s coastal waters:

– Mayumba National Park – 900 sq kilometers of expanded no-take grounds
– Loango National Park – 700 sq kilometers of new no-take grounds
– Pongara National Park – 100 sq kilometers of new no-take grounds
– Akanda National Park – 400 sq kilometers of new no-take grounds

WCS Gabon Humpback Whale

New oil exploration efforts focus on offshore concessions, many coinciding with seasonal habitats for humpback whales and year-round habitats for other marine species. Humpback whales migrate to Gabon’s near-shore waters to breed during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter. Photo: Michael Nichols

Staff Expertise

Johanna Polsenberg is the Coordinator for WCS’s Congo Basin Coast program. Before joining WCS in 2011, Johanna most recently helped organize regional recovery and restoration efforts across the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. She has nearly a decade of experience working in Washington, D.C. on environmental and energy policy as both a Senior Congressional Staffer and an advocate. Before developing a strong policy portfolio, Johanna established herself as a rigorous field scientist, working on coral reef management in the Florida Keys, Caribbean, and Indonesia, and conducting independent field studies in Australia and across the South Pacific. She earned an MBA focused on corporate strategy and sustainability from the University of Maryland, a Ph.D. on mangrove ecosystem nutrient dynamics and resiliency from Stanford University, and a B.S. in biochemistry and chemistry from the University of Vermont.

About Wildlife Conservation Society

Founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, WCS has a dual mission: education of the general public of the importance of wildlife, and implementing conservation programs in the field. WCS has played a prominent role in preserving and protecting key species, pioneering conservation studies, developing critical scientific information, and in the passage of precedent-setting legislation.

WCS is a leading conservation NGO with commitments to 74 landscapes and seascapes in Africa, Asia, Latin America, N. America, and throughout all four of the world’s oceans. Operating global conservation programs that span 60 countries, WCS scientists are noted for working with local communities, and have established an unmatched record of performance and experience in the conservation of wildlife and wild places through scientific research, training, and education. WCS works closely and collaboratively with local partners, government agencies, regional institutions, and non-governmental agencies to ensure their research results inform policy and lead to conservation impact.


WCS Website
Congo Basin Coast Seascape

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