Senegal's underwater museum tackles overfishing

STORY: Beneath the waves off Dakar's coast lies one of Senegal's newest museums.

The unusual silhouettes emerging in the underwater gloom are sculptures.

Made from ecological concrete, they're designed to restore marine life in an area that's suffered from overfishing.

The pieces, donated by artists at the end of last year, are also intended to raise awareness around ocean desertification and plastic pollution.

Rodwan El Ali is director at the Oceanium diving center, the Senegalese NGO that created the underwater museum.

"So we will have micro seaweeds that will cling to them, fish that will eat these algae, crustaceans and so on. The fish that was on the rock will move to this art-piece and then to that one and eventually the fish that was there will move to there. The bigger the museum gets, the more small fish it will attract. And then, the more small fish comes , the more big fish will come."

That would be good news for artisanal fishermen like Blaise Mbengue.

A short distance from Oceanium's museum, he's hauling in today's catch.

But, he says, they've only caught seven kilos which will sell for around $3 per kilo.

Effectively, he says, they've earned nothing.

Mbengue blames industrial fishing.

"Our government grants a lot of fishing licences. Where we used to find fish we find trawlers. Twenty kilometres off our coast, where we used to fish, there are now boats that spread their big nets. The tuna that we used to catch and other species are caught by the trawlers. We don't have much left."

Once among the richest in the world, experts say the West Africa's fish stocks are being depleted to feed European and Asian markets.

That poses a threat to livelihoods and food security.

World Bank data says some 600,000 people, almost 20% of Senegal's workforce, are employed in fishing.

Their hauls account for 75% of the country's animal protein intake.

But Mbengue says when he goes to the sea now he loses more than he gains.

It's hoped that initiatives like the underwater museum can help breathe life back into the ocean.

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