Living Reference Work Entry

The Wetland Book

pp 1-8

Date: Latest Version

Bijagos Archipelago (Guinea-Bissau)

  • Pierre CampredonAffiliated withConseiller Technique, UICN – Guinée-Bissau Email author 
  • , Paulo CatryAffiliated withMARE – Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre, ISPA – Instituto Universitário Email author 

Abstract

The Bijagós archipelago (11°14′N–16° 02′W) emerges from the shelf off Guinea-Bissau, not far from the mainland coast. It is the only active deltaic archipelago on the Atlantic coast of Africa. According to Limoges and Robillard (1991) it includes 88 islands and islets, some of which are mangrove islands flooded during spring tides, and some of which have several permanently emerged portions linked by intertidal mangroves. Twenty-one of the islands are permanently inhabited by communities of the Bijagós ethnic group. The islands are separated by a network of channels, and in general are surrounded by mangroves and extensive mud and sand flats, which together represent the most extensive intertidal area in Africa. Sediments originate mostly from the Corubal and Geba rivers and are deposited and moved around by a complex system of currents and wave action. The region is under the seasonal influence of the upwellings linked to the Canary current but also benefits from an important input of organic matter and nutrients via continental runoff and from the productivity of the mangroves. The archipelago and its surrounding flats and channels, covering an area of approximately one million hectares, harbors remarkable biodiversity which justifies its classification as a Biosphere Reserve (1996) and as a Ramsar Site (2014) and has prompted the creation of three marine protected areas. The traditional management of the natural resources of this area by the animistic Bijagós ethnic group is based on strong cultural and religious values and has allowed the long term conservation of the site, for example, through the effective protection of sacred islands and islets and sacred forest patches where initiation rites take place, and which remain true oases of biodiversity.