About the area

The West African Marine Ecoregion spans 3,500km of coast in western Africa and includes 6 countries: Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, and Guinea.

This coastline presents a wide variety of habitats, from rocky cliffs and broad sandy beaches to extensive sea grass prairies in the north and dense mangrove forests and well-developed estuaries in the south.

One of the most diverse, and economically important, fishing zones in the world
Among its most striking features are the unique coral reefs of Cape Verde and the powerful coastal up-wellings of cold water that support one of the most diverse, and economically important, fishing zones in the world.

The upwellings are primarily the result of the year-round trade winds that push surface waters away from the coast and draw cold, nutrient-rich waters from deep in the ocean up to the surface.

These rich waters meet the tropical sun to provide a perfect environment for plankton - the foundation of a tremendously productive food chain that supports incredible biodiversity.
Planet's largest breeding colony of monk seals
Over 1,000 species of fish have been identified, as have several species of cetaceans including dolphins and whales, 5 species of endangered marine turtles, and a colony of 100 monk seals - the largest breeding colony left on Earth.

Globally important coral reefs
While the continental up-wellings support their characteristic floral and faunal diversity, the offshore archipelago of Cape Verde harbours one of the most important coral reefs in the world.

Recently published studies have identified Cape Verde as both a centre of endemism - because of its unique and rare species - and as a top 10 global hot spot for coral communities - where conservation action is most needed and could have the greatest benefits.

So diverse, yet forming one ecological unit
Yet, even with this enormous diversity of habitats and species, the ecoregion forms one ecological unit.

Fish that spawn in northern nurseries seasonally migrate southwards (as do the fishermen) and provide the source of food for human fishing communities along the way. Conversely, recent satellite tracking has confirmed that green turtles lay eggs along the remote beaches of Guinea Bissau and travel northwards through Senegalese and Gambian waters to graze in the rich sea grasses of Mauritania.
So diverse, yet forming one ecological unit
Yet, even with this enormous diversity of habitats and species, the ecoregion forms one ecological unit.

Fish that spawn in northern nurseries seasonally migrate southwards (as do the fishermen) and provide the source of food for human fishing communities along the way. Conversely, recent satellite tracking has confirmed that green turtles lay eggs along the remote beaches of Guinea Bissau and travel northwards through Senegalese and Gambian waters to graze in the rich sea grasses of Mauritania.
The fact that so many species pass different phases of their life cycles in different habitats underscores the need to understand and manage the ecoregion as a whole.

The ecoregion’s importance also extends from Africa to other continents.

Over 6 million migrating birds from Europe feed in the rich coastal waters before beginning their homeward trek in the northern spring. Commercial fleets from distant countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas also depend on the rich fishing grounds and the fish they catch provides food and jobs for millions of people around the world.

In short, the unique combination of climate and up-wellings supports species and habitats that represent critical resources locally, nationally, regionally, and across the globe.

From a socio-political perspective, the area is relatively calm. Over the past 3 years, Mauritania, Senegal, the Gambia, and Guinea Bissau have all had democratic elections which have even led, in the case of Senegal, to a change of ruling party.

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