Gabon's Waters

Gabon Beach Photo
Gabon’s coastline is one of the world’s most important nesting grounds for threatened leatherback turtles.
©Tim Collins
Ocean Survey in Gabon Photo
WCS marine scientists survey cetacean populations and have discovered rare humpback dolphins in four new sites off Gabon's coast.
©Tim Collins
Whale Photo
To assess the impact of the oil industry on Gabon's marine species, WCS scientists conduct satellite tagging and genetic analyses on the humpback whales that migrate to near-shore waters to breed during the austral winter.
©Tim Collins

The warm equatorial waters of Gabon provide significant habitat for the West African manatee, humpback whale, and both humpback and common dolphin. Meanwhile, Gabon’s coastline is one of the world’s most important nesting grounds for threatened leatherback turtles. This sparsely populated country’s human culture is rooted in subsistence hunting, gathering, and fishing, but in recent decades, oil production revenues have been sustaining Gabon’s economy. Production trends from its existing wells, however, indicate dwindling reserves. New oil exploration efforts focus on offshore concessions, many coinciding with seasonal habitats for humpback whales and year-round habitats for other cetaceans and marine species. Other expanding offshore industries include industrial trawling and leasing of fishing concessions to international fleets. While these trends do not bode well for Gabon’s marine environment, the country is developing a comprehensive conservation agenda that attempts to reconcile development, habitat preservation, and indigenous needs while attracting ecotourism.

Fast Facts

  • In 2002 Gabon established 13 new national parks that protect a critical group of ecosystems and species, including west-central Africa’s first marine national park, Mayumba.
  • Humpback whales migrate to Gabon’s near-shore waters to breed during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.
  • The Atlantic humpback dolphin is rare throughout its patchy range, limited to near-shore and estuarine environments. Recorded sightings of the whale occurred between 2002 and 2004.
  • Gabon is believed to host a significant population of West African manatees, though there is no recent data. WCS studies have found that manatee meat is routinely available in Gabonese marketplaces.


Industrialized commercial fishing, oil spills, and displacement associated with oil exploration and drilling in marine areas primarily threaten Gabon’s abundant marine biodiversity. The proposed construction of a hydro-electric dam on the Ivindo River, which could alter the flow of freshwater into coastal ecosystems, may also endanger these ecosystems in the future. Balancing the need for sustained economic development with conservation of the marine environment remains a formidable challenge in Gabon, requiring both institutional and local conservation initiatives. The country’s environmental management regulations are ineffectively enforced, and in the promotion of sustainable ecotourism, greater scrutiny of whale-watching programs is necessary to ensure sensitivity to the animals’ well-being. The ever-present threat of renewed whaling also keeps Gabon’s whales at risk.

WCS Responds

Through satellite tagging and comprehensive genetic analysis of humpback whales, WCS conducted the first comprehensive impact assessment of oil industry activities on marine species and habitats. Our marine scientists also discovered rare humpback dolphins at four new sites. Working with the American Museum of Natural History to survey marine populations (including manatees), WCS is helping create sound conservation initiatives, as well as participating in the development of an integrated conservation program known as the Congo Basin Coast.

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.

Safer Seas for Sea TurtlesMay 12, 2011

Olive ridley sea turtles nest on the beaches Gabon but spend most of their lives in waters off the Republic of Congo. To protect them, WCS recommends the first international marine park off Africa’s western coast.

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.

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