Republic of Congo: A Strategy for MPA Expansion

Congo Humpback Dolphin

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – The Republic of Congo is located in central West Africa with its coastline stretching 170 kilometers from the border with Gabon in the north to Cabinda (Angola) in the south. The coast generally consists of sandy beaches exposed to high wave energy with few significant coves or bays, occasionally interrupted by river and lagoon mouths. Sea turtles nest the length of the coast with densities highest in the north; these beaches form a contiguous nesting habitat with those of southern Gabon, and several turtles satellite tagged in Gabon have made extensive use of inshore habitats in Congo. The EEZ Exclusive Economic Zone) also provides habitats for many cetaceans, including migrating/breeding humpback whales, a large population of sperm whales and endangered Atlantic humpback dolphins. Conkouati-Douli National Park (CNDP) is the only marine protected area in Congo.

Marine ecosystems in Congo are at a critical juncture. Decades of industrial exploitation without adequate planning, oversight or enforcement have resulted in an EEZ that is without any viable zonation, fisheries in the throes of collapse, and endangered species and vulnerable habitats without adequate protection. Congo’s small EEZ suffers disproportionately due to unrealistic demands being placed on the maritime area by government and systemic institutional failures to recognize the fragility of the area. Like neighboring Gabon, the Congo EEZ has an economic importance for sea cargo and transport, industrial and artisanal fisheries, and oil and gas production. These activities already have detrimental impacts on the ecological processes and habitats that surround them, and without adequate marine spatial planning and management, this damage will become severe. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an essential element of balanced marine zonation and management.

Opportunity & Goals

WCS is working to increase marine protected area (MPA) network coverage in Congo to meet Aichi targets, and to design and implement a well-managed protected area contiguous with Mayumba National Park in Gabon. A range of overlapping interests, including commercial fisheries, the oil and gas industry, and aquatic wildlife, currently compete in Congo’s marine environment. In the absence of an integrated management approach, extractive industry is causing serious damage to the vulnerable species and rich biodiversity inhabiting these waters–pelagic and demersal fish stocks, Atlantic humpback dolphins, sharks and rays, and nesting leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles.

This initiative aims to turn the tide on the damage caused by a lack of spatial planning and effective management first and foremost by the expansion of Congo’s MPA coverage. This will greatly assist in safeguarding vulnerable species and habitats, and reaching Aichi targets and Sustainable Development Goals. However, in so small an EEZ, creating an MPA cannot be achieved in isolation from broader management issues, and the WCS program will approach the expansion of MPA coverage through an integrated process of GIS-based marine spatial planning, including the requirements for sustainable fisheries, those of the oil and gas industry, and those of other coastal developers. With the relevant zonation plans identified, the project will work with local and international stakeholders to build the capacity for effective management in the relevant government agencies charged with overseeing these areas. This will include a substantial investment in support and training for surveillance and control within MPAs and peripheral waters. At the same time partnerships with industry will aim to identify opportunities for mutual assistance, such as the use of oil exclusion areas to safeguard and increase biodiversity.

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