Participatory seagrass mapping for biodiversity conservation and sustainable fisheries

Julien Sémelin
Published: 09 September 2020
Last edited: 09 November 2021
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In West Africa, as in many other places in the world, marine and coastal resources are in dire need of conservation. When established and managed in collaboration with local communities, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can support the conservation of ecosystems to better support the socioeconomic status and livelihoods of the communities. In the Joal-Fadiouth MPA (Senegal), community-based approaches such as participatory seagrass mapping enhance the legitimacy of conservation actions by drawing upon local fisherfolk knowledge and help raising awareness about ecosystem interrelations that are important to commercial fisheries and to the communities that depend on them. This solution was developed jointly between the FIBA Foundation (now MAVA Foundation) and the Management Committee of the Joal-Fadiouth MPA.


West and Central Africa
Scale of implementation
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Access and benefit sharing
Coastal and marine spatial management
Ecosystem services
Fisheries and aquaculture
Local actors
Protected and conserved areas governance
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 14: Ecosystem services


Joal, Thiès, Senegal


Fishermen of Joal-Fadiouth had clearly expressed their desire to conduct the mapping of their seagrass beds themselves, and to keep the involvement of international actors to a minimum. However, due to the turbidity of the ocean around Joal-Fadiouth, satellite images would have proved difficult to analyse, and would furthermore have required the support from GIS experts. Only an in-situ mapping exercise therefore matched the fishermen’s conditions. In this regard, the main challenge that the fishermen faced was a lack of full diving equipment. Luckily, at the time, the French Institute for Research and Development (IRD) office in Dakar was testing different clamps for underwater sample collections. One of the IRD’s small clamps was hence tested and replicated in order to collect seagrass samples at depths that the fishermen would not be able to reach with their sole snorkeling masks.


The beneficiaries include first and foremost the local fisherfolk from Joal-Fadiouth, who directly profit from healthy seagrass meadows and the crucial ecosystem services seagrass meadows provide for fisheries, including nursery and feeding habitats.

How do the building blocks interact?

The four building blocks build upon each other. The creation of the community-based MPA provided the basis for the participation and empowerment of fishermen, which in turn helped to raise awareness as well as generating a sense of ownership among the fishermen that were not involved in the participatory mapping activities. This strengthened the adaptive management of the MPA, and increased the legitimacy of some of the regulations that are being implemented. While the combination of these building blocks strongly contributed to the positive outcomes each of their actions, these can also be replicated independently in other contexts.


The implementation of this solution proved beneficial to the seagrass beds by increasing the level of their protection in the Joal-Fadiouth MPA. This in turn increased their ability to provide long-term ecosystem services that are not only crucial for sustaining the local fishermen’s livelihoods, but which also matter for climate change mitigation. On the other hand, the solution also had a direct positive impact on the fishermen. First the fishermen empowered by the participatory mapping activities, and second on the wider fishermen community, which participated in the different awareness raising activities and now have a better understanding of the importance of healthy seagrass beds for thriving fisheries activities. 


Julien Semelin

"For once, the job was done locally by the Marine Protected Areas members. This mapping initiative started with the fishermen. We were supported but we did the work with a clamp of our own making. It's important to show that we can do things on our own, without waiting for everything to come from outside. This mapping helped us to better understand our MPA, to select areas for artificial reefs and to propose adapted management measures." This is how Abdou Karim Sall, the charismatic president of the management committee of the Joal-Fadiouth MPA, describes the participatory seagrass mapping conducted by the MPA in 2012. 


The Joal-Fadiouth community-based MPA was established in 2004 by the Senegalese government with the aim of conserving biodiversity as well as of improving fishing yields and the related socio-economic benefits for the local artisanal fisherfolk.


A native of Joal-Fadiouth Abdou Karim Sall has long been aware of the important role that the flourishing seagrass play for commercially important fish species. Local resource users such as Mr. Sall are often the best stewards of their surrounding environments. Involving local fishermen in the mapping of seagrass beds has hence ensured the use of their best everyday knowledge, while equally providing opportunities to raise awareness among them about the critical role of seagrass beds for the fish species that they depend on for their livelihoods. 

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MAVA Foundation