The Ogooué River Basin in Gabon lies mainly within the Gabonese Republic; only approximately 10% of the basin is outside of the country. This partnership is designed to benefit the entire basin area within Gabon, with the near-term focus on the Lower Ogooué River, the Ivindo River (a main tributary), and Birougou Mountains (a Ramsar site and National Park) as locations for proof-of-concept projects.
Gabon encompasses approximately 90% of the basin and is where all currently planned engagement will take place. The Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon make up the remaining portion of the basin. If significant threats to the Ogooué River are determined to be coming from outside of Gabon, the strategies will extend outside of Gabon’s borders.
Agricultural and industrial outputs for Gabon
include major production of plantains, yams, cassava, rubber, taro,
groundnuts, pineapples and sugar cane. While primary exports include crude oil, wood and manganese.
Industrial agricultural investment is on the rise in the region, with an approximately $3 billion U.S. investment by a single company recently announced. A basin-wide Smart Infrastructure and Resource Development strategy is designed to directly engage major agricultural companies, particularly oil palm, in a holistic site planning and mitigation effort.
Freshwater fisheries are also important to the local economy as they provide a critical form of protein and a more sustainable alternative to bushmeat. The basin’s primarily artisanal freshwater fisheries are currently poorly managed, but the potential for fisheries co-management arrangements is very high.
The Ogooué Basin includes approximately 325 described fish species. It has extremely high diversity of Cyprinodontiformes (killifishes) and Mormyridae (snoutfish). Approximately ¼ of the fish in the relevant ecoregions are endemic. The Ogooué-Nyanga- Kouilou–Niari ecoregion has 249 fish species, 69 endemic, and the Southern Gulf of Guinea Drainages–Bioko ecoregion has 293 species, 75 of which are endemic. Diversity is also high among herptofauna and aquatic mollusks, notable among them are the African keeled mud turtle (Pelusios carinatus) and dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspsis). Much of the basin has not been sampled for aquatic species, and thus there is a high likelihood of undescribed species in the basin as well.
Considering Gabon’s relatively high per capita income ($8,600), high literacy rate (86%) and the low population density in the Ogooué Basin (less than 5 people per km2), there are still a number of conservation challenges in the basin. One major challenge is the lack of formal management of freshwater resources despite Ramsar and National Park designations around key areas of freshwater biodiversity. Although forestry laws have improved in the last decade, there is inadequate capacity to enforce Gabon’s goal of a sustainable forestry industry—an issue that is of critical importance given approximately half of Ogooué Basin land is in concessions and illegal logging continues.
Oil development in Gabon occurs mainly outside of the Ogooué Basin, but notable oil developments such as on Lake Ezanga could also threaten water quality in the lower river. Commercial agriculture is expanding within the basin as well, with oil palm development leading to habitat conversion which can create negative impacts if improperly sited. Overall, the primary resource and conservation challenge is to sustain the relative intactness of the forests and waterways of the Ogooué Basin—and benefits created by these ecosystems for a third of Gabon’s people that live in poverty—in the face of rapid development in the agricultural, energy and infrastructure sectors.
The primary river management challenges include:
- excessive sediment loading of basin waterways from forestry operations and road construction leading to reduction in water quality and indirect impacts on aquatic fauna;
- development of hydropower and achievement of national energy goals without jeopardizing the country’s conservation goals;
- lack of a freshwater conservation and management framework for the existing network freshwater conservation areas (Ramsar site and National Parks) to sustain freshwater biodiversity as well ecosystem services communities depend upon;
- inadequate fisheries management, particularly overharvesting through use of illegal gear and lack of limitation to entry, jeopardizing the future availability of freshwater fish protein;
- illegal hunting of aquatic dependent species of conservation concern;
- lack of adequate river port facilities for transport of goods from the interior;
- lack of management planning at the river basin scale to help ensure that sustainable development of the river basin can take place; and
- limited capacity within the basin for freshwater conservation and management training.
The partner vision for the Ogooué River Basin is that—through sustainable development of its river system—it will continue to provide ecosystem services such as hydropower, fisheries and clean drinking water to people who depend upon the basin. Achievement of this vision is possible, as the Ogooué Basin is almost exclusively governed by Gabon—a country with the political will to chart a new path that prioritizes natural resources stewardship as a pillar for future development.
photo: © John P. Sullivan/Flickr