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Commercializing Nature: Mangrove Conservation and Female Oyster Collectors in The Gambia



Abstract:  Taking a political ecology approach, this paper offers a critical evaluation of conservation efforts undertaken in Gambia's Tanbi Wetland National Park (TWNP), a “wetland of international importance” as designated by the Ramsar Convention. Focusing on the oyster commercialization component of the World Wildlife Fund's Gambia–Senegal Sustainable Fisheries Program (GSFP) in the TWNP mangrove forests, we identify oystering practices that promote mangrove conservation and others that conflict with sustainable management. The project, which aims to commercialize oyster culture through local women, is entirely production oriented, ignoring the ways in which oysters are prepared for market. As a result, degradation of the very mangrove forests the GSFP aims to conserve may be accelerated. The project selectively engages with local environmental knowledge and fails to consider the implications of expanding the value chains for oysters and their shells. Unless the World Wildlife Fund addresses these issues, its conservation objectives and potential socioeconomic benefits may be compromised.