By: Sheikh Alkinky Sanyang
Momodou Jaama Suwareh, Executive Director, NEA
The National Environment Agency has succeeded on its defiance fight for Government not to de-reserve the Bijilo Monkey Park and the relocation of the ITC complex to Pirang in the Kombo East District of West Coast Region in exchange for the Construction of a 5-Star Hotel Resort, Presidential Villas and an Ultra-Modern Shopping Mall all in preparation for the November 2019 OIC Summit of Heads of State.
In a strong communique to the Secretary General at the office of the President, the NEA Executive Director brought to the attention of the executive that any activity that tends to distort the natural setting of that Bijilo ecosystem would invariably have an impact over in medium and long term, as the extent of the distortion of the natural settings of an area is dictated by the type of development to be carried.
Momodou Jaama Suwareh quoted that according to PART III Section 31 (1) of the Biodiversity Act 2003, it is only the Secretary of State responsible for Biodiversity and Wildlife (in this case the Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources) who has the legal mandate to de-reserve a protected area and not the Ministry of Lands and Regional Government.
He however noted that the area was gazetted in 1952 as a protected area and therefore called the attention that Bijilo Forest Park and Nature Trail is a highly sensitive ecological area with rich species and fenced woodland. This 51.3 hectares land area is one of the three remaining coastal forests along the South Atlantic coastline of the country apart from the Kerenti Bird Reserve in Tanji and Bolonfenyo in Gunjur. All these features play a very crucial roles in erosion control.
It has long been observed that the dunes on the beach front of the park are intact as they serve as barriers to coastal erosion. But in areas without dunes, it is a serious concern in front of other hotels nearby which has resulted in the washing away of the buffer zones which once acted as barriers to the low lying coastal plain behind the beaches. NEA Executive Director posited.
Furthermore, Director Suwareh disclosed that this protected reserve comprise principally of a closed canopy forest with a significant number of rhun palms and a relatively thin strip of herbaceous dune vegetation, thus playing significant roles in carbon sequestration. Since gazetted, Bijilo Park has undergone many development management activities.
“Between 1951 and 1956, the boundaries on both sides of the park were cleared of fire belt lines and in 1977 and 1982 respectively, the park was surveyed by the Department of Forestry which was followed by a comprehensive inventory of the park. A nature trail was created by the Gambian-German Forestry Project in 1991and when the area was made open to the public, and now receives about 23,000 visitors a year”. He pointed out.
Adding on, he said this Forest Park has diverse flora and fauna consisting of threatened and endangered invertebrates, reptiles and mamal species, and among the primates are troops of green vervet monkeys, western red colobus monkeys, callithrix monkeys, Campbell’s Mona monkeys and patas. There is also a population of the nocturnal Senegal bush babies (Gulagos). Other mammalian species include the Gambian sun squirrel, African civet, genets, mongooses, brush-tailed porcupine among other smaller, less noticeable species.
“The park is also home to a diverse reptile fauna including agama, rainbow and monitor lizards and some interesting and colorful insects and invertebrates including fire ants, dragonflies, termites, butterflies, and the golden silk orb-weaver. Bijilo Forest Park is rich in birdlife and offers excellent opportunities for bird watching in The Gambia where studies have shown that over 133 bird species have been recorded in the park including such interesting species as the black-necked weaver, red-billed hornbill, greater honey guide, bearded barbet, oriole warbler, palm-nut vulture and long-tailed nightjar”. NEA Boss revealed.
Putting a defense for the monkey park not to move, he said the above mentioned spices and the many others make the area very attractive to the many tourist and nature visitors to The Gambia and therefore, these species of national, regional and international importance cannot be re-located elsewhere in the country since the capacity is not there to do so.
Consequently, considering the unique and pristine nature of the Bijilo Forest park and Nature Trail, NEA critically but professionally advised the Executive to re-consider the decision in de-reserving the park for the construction of a 5-Star Hotel Resort, Presidential Villas and an Ultra-Modern Shopping Mall all in preparation for the November 2019 OIC Summit of Heads of State.
He warned that de-gazetting this sensitive mosaic habitat for such a development will not only undermine our tourism sector but also contravenes our environmental legislations as well as obligations as a country towards the 3-Rio Conventions (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and United Nations Convention on Biological diversity).
The Government of The New Gambia showing her respect and commitment in the implementation of ratified international conventions and instruments, responded positively by rescinding the decision to transformed the park reserve, for the construction of a 5-Star Hotel Resort, Presidential Villas and an Ultra-Modern Shopping Mall all in preparation for the November 2019 OIC Summit of Heads of State. Conservationists welcomed the good news noting that the different families within that reserved ecosystem would be rejoicing and celebrating what most would call their independence day.
Confirming the good news, the Hon. Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources acknowledged this positive move by the new dispensation.