Congo Basin Coast Seascape

Gabon-Congo Seascape Photo
©Tim Collins

Along the coasts of Gabon and Congo, the world’s largest population of leatherback turtles nests on the beaches and humpback whales breed in the waters. Gabon's coastal mangrove forests and lagoons are among the most pristine in Africa, brimming with hippos, crocodiles, West African manatees, and tarpon.

Fast Facts

  • WCS scientists estimate that 47,000 female leatherback turtles nest on these beaches.
  • The Congo Basin Coast has an extremely low human population density, and most people live in Gabon’s two main cities, Libreville and Port Gentil. This leaves its beaches and wetlands almost completely undeveloped. Small fishing communities, dating back to the thirteenth century, dot the coast.


Illegal fisheries, poaching, pollution, habitat disturbance, and global climate change threaten sea turtle nesting sites. Other threats to the coastal zone include on and offshore oil exploration and production activities and logging. Increasing numbers of domestic and foreign fishing boats—many of them unlicensed—venture into the territorial waters of the Congo Basin Coast to fish illegally. These boats kill fish, sharks, and rays at unsustainable levels, and their nets pose a critical threat to vulnerable populations of sea turtles and coastal dolphins that are captured unintentionally as by-catch. Intensive and unregulated fishing results in a vicious cycle: As fish stocks are depleted, an important source of protein for local communities is jeopardized, and the people are forced into the forest to hunt bushmeat—another unsustainable practice.

WCS Responds

WCS spearheads the Gabon Sea Turtle Partnership, a network of organizations concerned with the protection of four species of marine turtles that frequent this seascape. The coalition is working with local agencies to ensure the leatherback population is protected. In 2009, WCS scientists and colleagues from the University of Exeter in England, the Government of Gabon, and tagged two female leatherbacks with satellite transmitters to monitor the turtles’ precise movements and observe where and how deep they dive in the vast South Atlantic Ocean.

In addition, WCS has led, along with NOAA, the first ever at-sea trials of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDS) in the industrial shrimp industry in Gabon. Our work in partnership with the government, the industry, and NOAA is leading the way to legal changes that will make TEDs mandatory, saving the lives of tens of thousands of sea turtles that get accidentally caught in shrimp nets.

We are working across the seascape to expand the number and size of marine protected areas to safeguard at least 10 percent of the territorial seas. WCS is helping governments enforce fishery regulations that recognize migration corridors and key habitats for key species, define by-catch reduction targets, and ensure sustainable catch levels. These efforts are supported by enforcement and observer programs.

WCS conservationists are also assessing the status and distribution of manatees, collecting data that will help to design and implement management plans for the species in Gabon.

From the Newsroom

Marine Mammals on the MenuJanuary 24, 2012

A newly released study finds that people are increasingly consuming marine mammals—including some very rare species, like the Fraser’s dolphin—in more than 100 countries around the world.

Scientists Reveal Epic Journeys of Leatherback TurtlesJanuary 5, 2011

The ocean-spanning journeys of the gigantic leatherback turtles in the South Atlantic have been tracked for the first time, thanks to groundbreaking research.

Scientists Track Ancient MarinersDecember 23, 2009

Noelle and Darwinia, two leatherback sea turtles from Gabon, are now wearing satellite tracking devices as they swim through the seas, aiding researchers studying the species' movements. Interested members of the public can also keep up with the turtles progress online.

Turtle Trove in GabonMay 18, 2009

Scientists discover the world’s largest nesting population of leatherback sea turtles on the beaches of Gabon. The finding offers new hope for the future of this endangered species.

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