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Guinea-Bissau - Geography

Deep rivers and large tracts of swamp dissect much of the interior. Both climate and topography are inhospitable. Guinea-Bissau is located at approximately 12 Latitude and 15 Longitude. Much of the country is close to sea level, and the Farim Mine Site area is similarly flat with an elevation change of approximately 40 m over a distance of 4 km between the Cacheu River and the north western edge of the Mine Site area. The elevation of the wider project study area (mine to port) varies between 5 m and 50 m.

Natural resources found in Guinea-Bissau include: fish, timber, clay, granite, limestone and unexploited deposits of petroleum, phosphates and bauxite. Approximately 10.67% of the land is arable and 235.6 square kilometres is irrigated. Natural hazards include a hot, dry, dusty harmattan haze that may reduce visibility during the dry season and brush fires. Environmental issues include deforestation; soil erosion; overgrazing and overfishing.

The land area of Guinea-Bissau is mostly savannah with low coastal plains either colonised by freshwater wetlands (most converted to rice paddies), salt marshes or fringing mangroves that line the river banks.

At just over 36,000 sq km in area, Guinea-Bissau is one of the smallest West African countries. Most of its generally flat terrain averages just 20 to 30 m above sea level, with low-lying plateaus in the east rising to 150 m. Guinea Bissau has an intricate shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean, with numerous estuaries that penetrate inland. Coastal valleys flood regularly, making them conducive to rice cultivation. Half of the population of this former Portuguese colony is found in the coastal zone and has been living for centuries in a tight relationship with the mangrove ecosystem and its rich fisheries.

Not far offshore, the Bijagos Archipelago, which includes 18 islands and numerous islets, is regarded as one of the worlds most beautiful island groups. Listed in 1966 by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve, the Bijagos Archipelago provides a refuge for abundant marine flora and fauna, including sea turtles and sea hippopotamuses. Some of the islands are also protected as a National Park and as a Community Marine Protected Area. The Bijagos Archipelago is economically important for tourism, fishing, and exploitation of native palm trees. Guinea-Bissaus economy also depends on farming and agro-pastoral activities, as well as on logging for timber. The country ranks fourth in Africa for cashew nut production, with exports from cashews accounting for 60 percent of the national income

In Guinea-Bissau, savannas dominate the land cover, accounting for about 45 percent of the countrys land surface. Although the total savanna land surface has remained nearly unchanged, the underlying dynamic is not so simple. Agricultural areas have doubled since 1975. Covering 13 percent of the national land surface in 2013, agriculture has become the second most extensive land cover class. Clearing for cultivation has encroached into natural habitats in all of Guinea- Bissaus ecoregions except the Zone de Colline de Bo (ZCB Bo Hill or Upland Zone). Whereas agricultural expansion explains the loss of about 2,500 sq km of savannas (or 16 percent of their 1975 total land surface), the degradation of woodlands and forests from logging and clearing has produced open landscapes that take on the characteristics of tree and wooded savannas, increasing the area mapped as savanna in the same period. Deforestation for wood production is responsible for 65 percent of forest habitat losses (forests, woodlands, gallery forests), or 1,700 sq km of forest that have become savannas in 2013.

Agriculture in shallows and recession, in particular rice cultivation, colonizes alluvial floodplains in the Zone des Estuaires (E-GB Estuary Zone) and the Zone Ctire (ZC-GB Coastal Zone). Rice cultivated areas have slightly increased in Guinea-Bissau since 1975, encroaching into wetlands, gallery forest and mangroves.

Whether from clearing for cultivation, local harvesting of wood, or for external commercial markets, the forest resources have been heavily degraded by rapid exploitation. The rate of deforestation has increased from about 2 percent per year between 1975 and 2000 to 3.9 percent over the 2000 to 2013 period. Overall, Guinea-Bissau lost about 77 percent of its forests between 1975 and 2013; only 180 sq km remain, mainly in the south near the Guinea border. Likewise, woodlands regressed by 35 percent over the 38 years, a loss of 1,750 sq km.

Mangroves are one of the major land cover classes in Guinea- Bissau, accounting for over 9 percent of the countrys land surface. This fragile ecosystem is critical to coastal people who take advantage of its rich fisheries and wood resources. They also use the tidal flats for traditional rice cultivation (Corcoran, Ravilious, and Skuja, 2007). Between 1975 and 2013, mangroves decreased by 6.4 percent, or 220 sq km.

The Bijags archipelagohas a considerable diversity of fauna. It was formed from the ancient delta of the Rio Geba and the Rio Grande. The wealth of the natural environment is mainly linked to the presence of the sea and the existence of mangroves and mud flats. The terrestrial environment includes palmgroves, littoral woodland savannahs, and semidry forests. Boloma Bijags Biosphere Reserve is an archipelago of 88 islands located on the coast of Guinea-Bissau in western Africa. Agriculture, forest exploitation, animal husbandry, fishing, shell gathering and ecological tourism are the main activities undertaken by the communities living in the islands. Of the eighty-eight islands in the archipelago, only around twenty-three are inhabited. The rest are sacred areas that only specially initiated members are allowed to visit.

In 2003, Guinea-Bissau agreed to the Spanish Company, DDY de Comercio Exterior SAs, proposal to use the Bolama Island, one of the islands in the archipelago, as a site for ship-breaking (Nature Reserve or Scrap Yard?). Though ship-breaking companies attempt to promote themselves as environmentally-friendly ship recycling companies, the oil, arsenic, asbestos, lead and PCBs the process released into the ocean.

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