Widening the Net: keep our rivers and seas plastic free

Our UK Aid Match appeal is raising money to keep our rivers and seas plastic-free. We want to save the precious marine wildlife of the Cameroon estuary from plastic pollution. Our aim is to train hundreds of people to collect plastic waste and turn it into useful products.

From 1 May to 31 July, all public donations to WasteAid will be doubled by the UK government, creating recycling jobs in the poorest parts of the world and keeping plastic out of the ocean.

The Cameroon estuary, or Wouri estuary, is a large tidal estuary in Cameroon, on the west coast of Central Africa.

Douala, the largest city in Cameroon, is at the mouth of the Wouri River where it enters the estuary. The estuary contains extensive mangrove forests, which are being damaged by pollution and population pressures.

Typical of many places in poor parts of the world, there is no rubbish collection in the city or surrounding areas. Over time, waste accumulates in dry riverbeds. When monsoon season arrives, rain washes the plastic into the fragile Cameroon estuary. It becomes tangled in the mangrove forest, and mistaken for food by hungry turtles and gentle manatees.

Eventually the tide flows out to the wide Atlantic Ocean, sweeping vast amounts of plastic to sea.

Mangrove forest, Threatened

The Cameroon estuary is surrounded by forests of mangrove trees, which grow happily in tidal waters. At low tide, their lower branches are completely exposed to the air, and at high tide they are submerged in brackish water (a mix of freshwater from the rivers and saltwater from the ocean). The mangrove Rhizophora racemosa reaches a height of 40 metres and protects the coast against the worst effects of storms. The mangrove forest provides spawning grounds for many types of commercial fish, which provide income for 40% of Cameroonians. Around a third of the fish caught in the Cameroon estuary is exported to Europe. 

Mangrove trees provide important nursery sites for young marine wildlife. The network of underwater branches protect small animals from predators.
The scale of plastic pollution is revealed at low tide. Plastic waste can be mistaken for food by marine wildlife, causing harm to a diverse range of animals.

Leatherback turtle, Vulnerable

Leatherback sea turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, are the largest of all living sea turtles, one of the deepest-diving marine animals (diving to 1,280m), and the fastest-moving reptiles (reaching speeds of 20mph). Leatherback turtles can live beyond 30 years old (some say up to 100 years), but nesting populations are in sharp decline. They eat mostly jellyfish, and are vulnerable to mistaking plastic bags floating in the ocean for food.  

African soft shelled turtle, Vulnerable

Hawksbill turtle, Critically Endangered

Most species of sea turtle are suffering from plastic pollution. People all around the world are finding turtles that have eaten plastic or become entangled in it.

The best way to save sea turtles from plastic pollution is to stop plastic reaching our rivers and seas in the first place.

West African manatee, Vulnerable

The African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) living in the Cameroon estuary, also known as the sea cow, is a gentle vegetarian. Manatees are found in oceans, rivers, lakes, coastal estuaries and bays. These peaceful nocturnal animals live in small groups and have a lifespan of 30 years, growing to 4.5m. The African manatee is endangered and its populations are in steep decline, not helped by vast amounts of plastic waste polluting their environment.

Sea cows are docile, sociable animals that eat mostly grass. They can grow up to 4.5 metres long.

This newborn manatee needs a healthy diet to grow strong. Unfortunately it is easy to mistake plastic for underwater plants.

The best way to save African manatees from plastic pollution is to stop plastic reaching our rivers and seas in the first place.

Wider conservation efforts

The Cameroon estuary is a very important place for wildlife and lots of conservation organisations are working there, including the Zoological Society for London (with funding from UK Government’s Darwin Initiative).

A short distance from the coast, other important wildlife roam the forest, including  the Central chimpanzee and the African forest elephant.

Central chimpanzee, Endangered

The Central chimpanzee is a sub-species of the common chimpanzee, one of the closest relatives to humans. Chimps “talk” to each other with gestures, facial expressions and sounds. They can crack open nuts with rocks, fish out insects from nests and logs using sticks, and shelter from the rain by holding up leaves like umbrellas.

African forest elephant, Endangered

African forest elephants are the smallest of the elephant species, but still one of the biggest mammals on earth. The elephant’s feet are sensitive and can detect vibrations through the ground, whether thunder or elephant calls, from up to 10 miles away.

Until 31 July, all donations we receive will be doubled by UK government, up to £2 million. There’s never been a better time to make a positive impact and help protect wildlife from plastic pollution.

Read more about our appeal

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