From: Felicity Thompson, Reuters
Published March 8, 2010 06:46 AM

West Africa mangroves impacted by salt extraction

Salt is precious in poverty-stricken coastal West Africa, but conservation experts say efforts to extract it are laying waste to mangrove swamps, causing erosion and ravaging fish stocks.

In Sierra Leone, one of Africa's poorest nations still recovering from a 1991-2002 civil war, lawmakers are preparing a bill to join a seven-nation charter to protect the region's mangrove forests.

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Conservation group Wetlands International says the initiative is essential for West Africa to save the 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) of mangrove swamps it has left, less than a third of the 3 million hectares it started with.

The mangroves are falling prey to the artisanal salt industry because they are most readily available source of wood for fires used to boil up seawater and salt dust -- the preferred method of making salt.

Environmental groups are trying to encourage salt producers to use other methods, including solar drying, to reduce the strain on mangroves.

"If the mangroves disappear, fishing will be in crisis," said Wetlands' West Africa coordinator Richard Dacosta. "The saltwater tide will invade river estuaries and coastal areas. Local communities on the coast will have to move."

The region's mangrove forests also suck up thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide, and so could be a way for West Africa to get a foothold in the $136 billion carbon market.

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6272K720100308

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