South African researchers have just completed one of the few studies of climate risk to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) coastal World Heritage sites across Africa. The study shows that at least 56 of the assessed sites are already threatened by extreme events such as flooding and erosion, a number that will triple to almost 200 by the year 2100 if climate change continues unabated.
The island of Gorée, located 3.5 km off the coast of Dakar in Senegal, is gradually retreating due to erosion and rising sea levels. The small 28-hectare island, a historical relic for having been one of the largest slave trading centres on the African coast between the 15th and 19th centuries, was the subject of a recent study by South African researchers. The scientists assessed the vulnerability of 284 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage coastal sites along Africa’s 300 000 kilometres of coastline.
This study is one of the few to assess climate risk to heritage sites across Africa. It shows that at least 56 of the assessed sites are already threatened by extreme coastal events such as flooding and erosion, a number that will triple to nearly 200 by the year 2100 if climate change continues unabated.
Protecting the ‘memory’ against climate change
In the case of Senegal’s Gorée Island, awareness of its disappearance due to extreme coastal events is not new. The Senegalese government was already aware of this in 2014. The Senegalese Directorate of Cultural Heritage initiated a project to protect Gorée Island against coastal erosion. And since 2018, the Senegalese Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development has been implementing the integrated coastal management project.
In addition to Gorée Island, the range of 56 UNESCO African Heritage coastal sites threatened by climate change includes, among others, the iconic ruins of Tipasa in Algeria, the archaeological sites of North Sinai in Egypt and the atoll (tropical sea island, formed of coral reefs surrounding a central shallow water lagoon) of Aldabra in the Seychelles, one of the largest atolls in the world.