The Bijagós Archipelago
Located offshore Guinea-Bissau (West Africa), the Bijagós Archipelago is a group of 88 islands and islets of which only 41 are inhabited (20 of them only temporarily). It is a sanctuary for iconic fauna, such as marine turtles, manatees, hippopotamus, and several species of migratory sea birds and waders. This biodiversity led to the designation of the Bolama-Bijagós UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1996 and of RAMSAR site; wetland of international importance in 2013.
It is the only deltaic archipelago of West Africa. Its land area is 900 km2 but during the low tide this area doubles due to the large expanses of mud flats that are uncovered and which are very important for many species of birds. It is populated mainly by the ethnic Bijagó people and houses three Protected Areas: Orango National Park; Urok Community Protected Marine Area; and the National Marine Park João Vieira - Poilão (PNMJVP).
The beaches of the archipelago are used by four species of sea turtles for nesting: the green turtle Chelonia mydas, the olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea, the hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata and the leatherback Dermochelys coriacea, and important foraging grounds for green turtle juveniles have also been identified in the area.
The waters of the archipelago are used by two species of dolphin; the humpback dolphin Sousa teuszii (Critically endangered, IUCN Red List 2017) and the bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus, as well as by juvenile and adult green turtles. The ichthyofaunal is very rich and includes many important commercial species (e.g. genera Caranx, Lutjanus, Epinephelus, Pagellus, Mugil, Sardinella). There are several species of sharks (16 species) and rays (18 species), including 9 globally Vulnerable or Endangered species (e.g. Rhinobatos rhinobatos, R. cemiculus, Sphyrna mokarran).
João Vieira - Poilão Marine National Park (JVPMNP)
The João Vieira Poilão Marine National Park was officially created in August 2000 by the Decree-Law 6-A/2000. It sets in the southeast region of the Bijagós Archipelago (N10°77’ to 11°07’, W15°56’ to 15°77’) and covers an area of 495 km2( 49,500 ha), comprising four main islands; João Vieira, Cavalos, Meio and Poilão, and three islets; Cabras, Baixo das Gaivotas and Ilhéu do Meio.
The southernmost island of the park, Poilão, hosts the main rookery of green turtles Chelonia mydas in Africa, third largest in the Atlantic and the sixth largest in the world. The density of nests there is very high, with an average of 27,000 nests per year distributed in less than two kilometers of beach extension. Hawksbill turtles eretmochelys imbricata also regularly nest on Poilão Island, but in much smaller numbers, with only six nesting females per year, on average. The other islands of the park also support a significant number of green turtle nests.
The main objectives of the Park are:
Protection of biodiversity and island ecosystems;
Conservation of marine turtles and colonial waterfowl;
Protection and enhancement of cultural heritage Bijagó;
Contribution to the regeneration of fishery resources;
Development of Ecotourism.
National Park of Orango
The Orango National Park was created in December 2000 by the Decree-Law 12/2000. It is the largest protected area of the Bijagós Archipelago, with a total area of 1,582.35km2 (158,235 ha). It is located in the southern part of the archipelago (N11˚00´ to 11˚20´ and W15.87’ to 16˚25´) and encompasses the islands of Orango Grande, Orangozinho, Canogo, Meneque and Imbone, and several islets.
At the PNO four species of sea turtles use the beaches during the nesting season; the green turtle, the hawksbill, the leatherback Dermochelys coriacea (Vulnerable, IUCN Red List 2013) and the olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea (Vulnerable, IUCN Red List 2008).
The Park hosts the greater population of Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius (Vulnerable, IUCN Red List 2016) in the country, which have the unique habit here of extensively using marine environment, and a significant population of the African manatee Trichechus senegalensis (Vulnerable, IUCN Red List 2015).
Unhocomo - 1432 ha
Unhocomozinho - 377 ha
unhocomo and Unhocomozinho
Unhocomo and Unhocomozinho are the westernmost islands of the Bijagós Archipelago. Both juvenile and adult green turtles forage in the coastal waters of these islands throughout the year. The depth at foraging sites is generally very shallow (~1.5 - 2m at high tide), and the sea bottom is dominated by macroalgae and ocasionally seagrass of the genus Halodule.
The sandy beaches of both islands are also used for nesting, with reports of green, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles. However the nesting population here is small, with as few as 30 records per year, mostly of green turtles.