FREETOWN (AFP) – Sierra Leone's fragile mangrove ecosystem risks being depleted if steps are not taken, the country's forestry director said Saturday after African countries adopted a plan to save coastal mangrove forests.
"There is (a) need to formulate and implement a sustainable policy... and a need for an integrated approach for the safeguard of the environmental and economic benefits of mangrove resources," Ahmed Mansaray said in a statement broadcast on national radio.
Mansaray spoke a day after Sierra Leone and five other west African countries -- Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Guinea -- signed onto an action plan for sustainable mangrove management in Freetown.
Trees and shrubs that grow in saline areas of the tropics and subtropics, mangroves play a key role as nursery areas for fish and shrimp and in stabilising shorelines, environmentalists say.
Mangroves cover about 760,000 hectares (1.9 million acres) of Sierra Leone -- on par with the country's forest cover, according to government statistics.
But rice cultivation, wood cutting and other activities have taken a toll on the country's mangrove ecosystem, experts at the Freetown workshop were quoted as saying.
Worldwide, mangrove forests are among the most threatened tropical ecosystems, with pollution, climate change, overharvesting and overfishing among the factors accounting for their disappearance, according to international conservation group WWF