Participatory seagrass mapping for biodiversity conservation and sustainable fisheries

Full Solution
Un pêcheur actionnant la pince pour collecter des herbiers marins
Julien Sémelin

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.

Last update: 09 Nov 2021
Défis à relever
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement

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.

Scale of implementation
Access and benefit sharing
Ecosystem services
Protected and conserved areas governance
Sustainable livelihoods
Local actors
Traditional knowledge
Coastal and marine spatial management
Fisheries and aquaculture
Joal, Thiès, Senegal
West and Central Africa
Summary of the process

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.

Building Blocks
A community-based Marine Protected Area

The MPA in Joal-Fadiouth was established on November 4th, 2004. The idea of the conservation of the marine resources, and hence the establishment of the MPA, stemmed directly from the local fisherfolk community. Along with the fisherfolk community, the MPA is being co-managed by the the Directorate of Community-Based Marine Protected Areas (DAMCP) which was created in order to support Senegal’s blue growth and biodiversity conservation national strategies.

Enabling factors

In 2006, a Management Committee was established and represents all the relevant stakeholder groups that are either directly or indirectly impacted by or involved with the MPA, including fishermen, fish processing women, tourism professionals, or the police. In total, 18 representatives are part of the Management Committee. 

Lesson learned

The existence of a proper functioning management committee played an essential role in the development of the project. The members of the MPA did not want to only be the hosts of an additional project, piloted by an outside NGO. They wanted to implement the mapping themelves, in order to respond to their management needs. Therefore, their first challenge has been for them to get sufficient technical expertise in order to carry out the activities. The project started with capacity building activities, supported by FIBA Foundation for technical and financial aspects, and by the Regional Network of MPAs (RAMPAO) for designing the mapping exercise.

Participatory seagrass beds mapping by local fishermen

The fishermen used a bathymetric map of the MPA combined with GPS devices. Each GPS location marked corresponded to a 50m2 investigated area, in which the presence of seagrass was confirmed or not. The exact seagrasses species (primarily Cymodocea) were indexed for each site in a dedicated notebook. In total, around 1500 samples were collected within the MPA. A color code was then assigned to the different findings – seagrass, sands, or rocks – which were then transcribed onto a paper map thanks to the collected GPS coordinates. In addition, twenty surveys – acknowledging the seasonal bias – were conducted randomly over the course of one year with the aim of noting again the presence or absence of seagrass. The protocol for the surveys was inspired by examples provided by the Seagrass-Watch field guides. The paper map and GPS coordinates were later transformed into a digital map by Mr. Paul Tendeng, GIS technician from the Regional Network of Marine Protected Areas in West Africa (RAMPAO).

Enabling factors

In 2009, FIBA Foundation (Fondation Internationale du Banc d’Arguin) – which in 2014 merged with the existing MAVA Foundation – supported a first visit by seagrass expert Mr. Gérard Pergent (Pacal Paoli University of Corsica). In Joal, this visit and in-situ observations raised the attention of Mr. Abdou Karim Sall (President of the Joal-Faditouh MPA Management Committee) and other fishermen. This encounter shed light on the importance of seagrass in Joal-Fadiouth, especially for local resources like squids.

Lesson learned

Once the fishermen and the management committee of the MPA understood the importance to protect the seagrass beds for the benefit of their fisheries, they requested support from the FIBA foundation, with which they had a long standing trust relationship. Conducted in 2012-2014, they implemented the first participatory mapping of seagrasses in Senegal, with 70-80% of the work voluntarily conducted by fishermen themselves. The FIBA team, then based in Dakar and composed of Mr. Julien Semelin (Marine Species and Habitat Programme Coordinator), Mr. Simon Mériaux (Organizational Development Programme Coordinator), and Mr. Antonio Araujo (Technical Expert), both financially and technically supported the fishermen of Joal-Fadiouth. In total, FIBA provided around 20.000 EUR for materials, fuel, and awareness activities, and dedicated around 40 days of work for technical assistance.

Awareness raising activities

In each neighborhood of Joal-Fadiouth, awareness raising activities were conducted. Short films including underwater footage showing fishermen diving in search for seagrass were shown to the broader community of fishermen. The films were projected at night, followed by debates with the MPA management team.  While the fishermen were targeted through specific meetings or by listening to the numerous interventions of the MPA team at the local radio, these films and debates were the opportunity to touch the other members of the family and of the neighborhood.

Enabling factors

Awareness raising activities such as the projection of films or radio interviewes were regurlarly conducted by the MPA team since its creation. Fishermen and inhabitants were used to hear messages coming from the management team, which had credibility. 

Lesson learned

This helped to raise awareness around the critical role seagrass beds play as nursery and feeding grounds in their MPA, and to stress the importance of their conservation for both current and future generations of fishermen. Furthermore, additional snorkeling equipment was purchased in order to allow local fishermen to see the seagrass meadows by themselves. The increased awareness of the fishermen around seagrass beds led them to request appropriate MPA zoning and marking, in order to avoid involuntary damages to seagrass caused by either their anchors or the propellers of their engines.

Artificial reefs

Another important related activity was the identification of the location of artificial reefs, in order to increase fish biomass by using the reef effect.

The seagrass map later produced by the MPA proved particularly useful to select seagrass-free areas to place these artificial reefs.

Enabling factors

The submersion of articial reef was alrrady tested with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2009. Moreover, the Senegalese Aquaculture and Mussel Research Centre (CRAMS) located in M’bodiène, north of Joal-Fadiouth, was developing and placing artificial reefs at the same time inside the aquaculture farm. 


The fishermen of Joal-Fadiouth became particularly interested in submerging similar reefs in their MPA, in order to attract fish and diversify the fishing activity. 

Lesson learned

A challenge for the CRAMS was the loss of some fish escaping from the cages, but also the fact that the shadow of the cages tended to attract wild fish as well. This abundance of both wild and escaped farmed fish around the farm attracted local fishermen, which often resulted in damage to the cages and hence to conflicts with the CRAMS team. The team therefore deployed several artificial reefs around the cages (made of mollusc shelves, largely consumed by Senegalese). Not only did the artificial reef effect result in increased fish biomass, but the reef also kept the fishermen off the fish cages.


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. 


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.

Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
Julien Semelin
Abdou Karim Sall, President of the Joal-Fadiouth MPA Management Committee
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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Other contributors
Simon Mériaux
MAVA Foundation