Terrestrial protection status: UNESCO World Heritage for the entire island since 1978
The island of Gorée, of volcanic origin, has an important biodiversity. Its beaches are major egg-laying sites for sea turtles. Its important history is today threatened by the impacts of mass tourism, environmental issues (especially erosion) and a social crisis linked to the unemployment rate.
Gorée Island is located in the Atlantic Ocean, in the center of the bay that forms the south coast of the peninsula of Cape Verde. It administratively depends on Dakar, which is located 3.5 km away. It is a volcanic island, formed by cooled lava. It is dominated in the south by a granitic plateau.
Gorée is composed of two zones: the upper zone, located in the South, represents a quarter of the island surface, is characterised by the Castel Cliff (36 m altitude), and is a witness of the Miocene volcanism (- 13 million years) at the Cape Manuel; The lower zone is located further north and represents three quarters of the island surface. This area hosts most of the economic and institutional activities.
From the 15th to the 19th century, Gorée was the largest slaves trading center on the African coast. It was under Portuguese, Dutch, English and French domination. There are buildings of different periods and colonial styles dedicated to housing, education, religion (first mosques and churches) and the slave trade.
Today, about 40% of the island’s buildings belong to the state. On the former military upper part of the island, there are illegally inhabited undergrounds.
The population of Gorée is young, with an average age of 23 years. The real population is estimated at 2,000 inhabitants, 500 of them without rights nor title. The latter are mainly descendants of the former administration employees who continued to occupy the State’s buildings without right nor title. 65% of the population is formally unemployed.
75% of Gorée economic sector relies on tourism (hostels, restaurants, small businesses…). It welcomes up to 500,000 visitors/year at best, making Gorée one of the most visited sites in Senegal.
Some endemic marine fauna and flora species are threatened by non-regulated fishing nets, explosives, and pollution generated by degassing ships. The tranquillity of the turtles for laying their eggs is also very relative. The island vegetation is mainly composed of palm trees, baobabs, sandbox trees, bougainvilleas and hibiscus.
All year around, Gorée is under pressure from the tourism high density, which causes challenges with water availability, as well as waste management and treatment. Current efforts are currently focusing on implementing solutions to respond to these major issues.
Today, there are no bathrooms accessible for tourists, and most part of the wastewater is rejected without being treated, which highly increases the pollution risks and sanitary issues. In addition, a large number of infrastructure are aging, and require maintenance and repairs (water and electricity distribution systems, sewage network, etc.) Most of these systems were built during colonial times, and the risk of failure is highly increasing.
The State and the city of Dakar also own ruined buildings on the island. Restoring them to reintegrate these buildings into the island life is a major challenge.
The issue of coastal erosion requires planning and improvements to preserve the island’s heritage and landscape, as well as the human activities.