Friday, January 25, 2008

Cape Verde’s unique biodiversity: an overview

Cape Verde is an archipelago nation of volcanic origin formed by nine inhabited islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 450 km West of West Africa. Partly due to the archipelago’s isolation, the biodiversity of Cape Verde is globally unique with many endemic species, some of which are endangered. Cape Verde offers several internationally important bird and reptile populations (including five sea-turtle species), many species of large pelagic fish, as well as dolphins and whales. There are also several important coral communities in the country, many of which are under stress.

During the last decade, the Cape Verde Government has shown strong commitment and made encouraging efforts to strengthen the legislative and institutional setup to protect the environment, including nature and biodiversity conservation. In 2004, a second National Environmental Action Plan (PANA II) was adopted. The plan has a comprehensive and ambitious approach, and includes an important component of environmental decentralization to the country’s municipalities. Moreover, Cape Verde has signed and ratified a number of key environmental conventions, e.g. relating to climate change, desertification, biodiversity, trade of endangered species and wetlands.

However, there is still a lack of information, technical expertise and financial resources, especially at the local level and within civil society, regarding environmental management and nature conservation. Therefore, there is a strong need to increase awareness and build capacity for sustainable resource management and environmental protection at all levels, in particular as regards protecting marine and coastal biodiversity.

Cape Verde has a unique and vulnerable global biodiversity, partly due to its isolated location in the Atlantic Ocean, with many rare endemic species of plants, birds, insects, as well as marine species, some of which are endangered. In the 500 years since humans first colonized the islands, the loss of natural habitats has been severe, caused by the conversion of natural habitat to agriculture, a complete loss of indigenous forests, poor farming practices, introduction of alien plants and animals, and drought. The introduction of rats, sheep, goats, monkeys and cattle has had devastating effects on the native flora and fauna, sometimes wiping out entire colonies.

Today, the remaining habitats and their flora and fauna are continuously under pressure from human activities and introduced species, resulting in overgrazing, over-fishing, improper land use, and the destruction of the few remaining woodlands. Environmental degradation is also escalating due to poor land use planning combined with rapid economic development (in particular tourism and urban sprawl), poverty and poor environmental management. Sand mining, sewage, pesticide run off, and over-exploitation of several marine species, birds and reptiles (including their eggs) for consumption and local medicines all threaten the delicate ecology of Cape Verde.

Below follows short status reports for some of the main species groups.

Birds: Cape Verde has several internationally important bird populations, some of which are endemic and/or endangered. Some of the most interesting birds include the Cape Verde Shearwater (Calonectris edwardsii), the Raso Lark (Alauda razae), the Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea bournei), the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), the Cape Verde Petrel (Pterodroma feae), the Cape Verde swamp-warbler (Acrocephalus brevipennis), the Red-billed Tropicbird, (Phaethon aethereus) and the Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus). Breeding seabirds have been greatly reduced in numbers due to habitat loss and predation from humans or introduced animals such as cats and rats.

Reptiles: Five different species of Sea Turtles can be found in Cape Verde, and the islands are believed to be the second largest breeding site for Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the North Atlantic. Out of 15 different lizards in Cape Verde, 12 are endemic. The Giant Gecko (Tarentola gigas) can, for example, only be found on the Raso and Branco islets close to Sao Vicente. The same was true for the now extinct Giant Skink (Macroscincus coctei).

Mammals: The Cape Verde waters is a key breeding and mating habitat for Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), and various species of dolphins are abundant. The only other native mammals are five small bat species. A species of monkey has been introduced.

Fish and corals: Large pelagic fish, including sharks and tuna, are abundant, and coral communities can be found in almost all Cape Verde islands. According to the magazine Science, it is one of the top ten hotspots for corals in the world. Knowledge about most of the coral communities is limited, however.

Plants: Some 92 species of plants are endemic to these islands, of which at least one is endangered – an understory tree known as Marmulan (Sideroxylon mermulana). The endangered Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena draco) can also be found in the Archipelago. It is estimated that more than 50% of the Capeverdean flora has been introduced.


Cape Verde government’s website on environmental information (
World Wide Fund for Nature


Karinapsousa said...

Hello Ulf, i just wanted to leave a comment for your very good work on this blog! Keep it up! All the best,

Karina de Sousa.

Ulf Björnholm Ottosson said...

Thanks Karina!

Dr. Azagua said...

Mr. Ulf Björnholm Ottosson,

I find your articles to be consistent, well written and documented and highly informative. Cape Verde needs people like you who, honestly make a living and make accurate report. Best of luck in your future endeavors. Don't forget to visit Mosteiros and hike those mountains. Take a guide with you. Ask the "Camara" (city hall) to help you get one who speaks english. Quite a few in the island.

Dr. Azagua said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ulf Björnholm Ottosson said...

Mr Azagua,
thank you som much for your kind words. I would have loved to visit Mosteiros from the Fogo crater. It was on my list, by somehow it didn't happen. Now I am back in Europe again, but I'll keep this in mind for future visits to CV.

Keoma said...

I really enjoyed reading your post on atheism in Cape Verde. I found by searching for it specifically(Although i didnt think id find anything). I am Cape Verdean and an atheist. Although i live in the US i was born in CV. The attitude towards atheism by cape verdeans is not only held by cape verdeans living in CV, but also by the large population currently living in the US. I hope to one day change this.

Ulf Björnholm Ottosson said...

Hi Koema,
thank you for your comment on Atheism in Cape Verde, and interesting to share you views on the subject. I have also lived in the US (but in New York which is probably more secular than many other parts of the country) and I have always been puzzled by the large degree of religiosity there, and the strong antipathy expressed agains atheists; they seem to be almost discriminated against. For example, a politician who admitted to be an atheist would probably never have any chance of being elected whereas in Sweden (where I come from) it is almost the other way around.