Can the Gambia turn the tide to save its shrinking beaches? | Global development

When Saikou Demba was a younger man beginning out in the hospitality enterprise, he opened a bit of lodge on the Gambian coast known as the Leybato and ran a seaside bar on the huge expanse of golden sand. The lodge remains to be there, a relaxed spot the place company can lie in hammocks beneath swaying palm bushes and stroll alongside shell-studded pathways. However the seaside bar is just not. At excessive tide, Demba reckons it will be about 5 or 6 metres into the sea.

“The primary yr the tide got here in excessive nevertheless it was OK,” he says. “The second yr, the tide got here in excessive nevertheless it was OK. The third yr, I got here down in the future and it [the bar] wasn’t there: half of it went into the sea.”

The owner of the Leybato hotel, Saikou Demba
Leybato lodge proprietor Saikou Demba has watched the Gambia’s shoreline crumble over the years. {Photograph}: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

That was in the Eighties, earlier than most individuals had even heard of the greenhouse impact.

However to Demba, 71, and lots of others like him, it was apparent even then that issues have been altering. The ocean was coming in additional and additional yearly, and the shoreline, little by little, was crumbling.


Now, the Leybato has misplaced not solely its seaside bar however, at excessive tide, its seaside: the sea comes proper up to the backside of the terrace and splashes over the high. The erosion of the shoreline is clearly seen in the cracked paving stones and uncovered roots of the coconut bushes. The ocean grass that used to carpet the ocean flooring has gone.

“These grasses have been defending the sea, however there aren’t any extra now,” says Demba. “I additionally used to see turtles, huge turtles. Now, none. We’re in a really unhappy state of affairs.”

All alongside the 50-mile shoreline of the Gambia, Africa’s smallest mainland nation, resorts and guesthouses are dealing with comparable pressures. And, in a creating nation the place tourism makes up about 20% of GDP and employs tens of 1000’s of individuals, it couldn’t be extra essential that they stand up to them.

“Now we have already discovered the lesson from Covid-19. Tourism may be very, essential [for the country],” says Alpha Saine, front-office supervisor of the Kairaba hotel, considered one of the two most luxurious in the nation.

After a chronic absence throughout the pandemic, European vacationers are beginning to return to the Gambia, even when numbers seem considerably down. Saine hopes Covid quickly “turns into historical past”.

Erosion has exposed tree roots and the crumbling coastline is affecting the terrace of the Leybato hotel in Fajara.
Erosion has uncovered tree roots and the crumbling shoreline is getting nearer to the terrace of the Leybato lodge. {Photograph}: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

The menace posed to the business by the local weather disaster, nevertheless, is extra formidable in the long run, and nobody seems to have discovered an answer that works for all.

On the seashores of the Kairaba and Senegambia resorts, the beating coronary heart of the Gambia’s “smiling coast” tourism business, a barrier of rocks has been laid that runs for a number of hundred metres alongside the shoreline, stopping the waves from encroaching too far. When the tide is low the seaside remains to be huge and, in the age of Covid, gloriously empty – however at excessive tide it’s a slim strip of sand.

That isn’t sufficient to put most individuals off. Taking a stroll in the sunshine with the waves lapping round her toes, Ann Eady – on her fifteenth Gambian vacation – says the barrier doesn’t hassle her in any respect. “They’ve obtained to keep the magnificence they’ve obtained. It could be a disgrace for it to go,” says Eady, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

The rocks are efficient, however Lamin Komma, head of coastal and marine surroundings at the Gambia’s Nationwide Setting Company, is obvious about the undertaking’s limitations. “You can not defend the whole coast with rocks. You can not try this,” he says.

Komma, who’s creating a coastal administration plan for the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, needs the nation to focus extra on boosting its pure defences, for instance, planting coconut bushes and mangroves, which may also help preserve sand in place and take in carbon in the course of.

The rocky barrier on Senegambia beach
The rocky barrier on Senegambia seaside will maintain again erosion for a time however pure defences, comparable to planting coconut bushes and mangroves, are a longer-term answer. {Photograph}: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

“Placing [in] arduous buildings, sure, it’s tremendous, nevertheless it’s very costly and it solely serves possibly a time frame,” Komma says. The opposite factor that wants to change is the nation’s expectation that donor companions will foot the invoice, he provides. “We can not carry on counting on donors. Now we have to have mechanisms in place,” he says.

Over at the Leybato, the place Demba breaks off from a day feast of watermelon to discuss to the Guardian, he appears in tune with this mindset. Not for him the rock boundaries, or sea partitions. “I’ve my plan: planting coconut bushes,” he says. He has already planted dozens, and there are extra to come.

However though hopeful and impressive, Demba can also be offended that for greater than three many years he has been seeing the local weather disaster coming and nothing has been finished to cease it.

“I don’t suppose they’re listening to us,” he says, standing beside his crumbling terrace, referring to the political leaders assembly final week at Cop26.

“That lady, from Sweden I believe [Greta Thunberg], they’ve to pay attention to the message she is giving the world: not for us now – I’m 71 – however the younger individuals. Local weather change is actual. The floods, the fireplace, they’re actual. However we’ve no energy to do something about them. We’re the victims, we in Africa, and we’re powerless. We simply need our youngsters to have a future.”

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