The Indian Ocean Coast of Somalia

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Somalia has the longest national coastline (3025 km) in Africa with an estimated shelf area (depth 0–200 m) of 32 500 km2. The country is divided into the northern coastal plain of Guban, which has a semi-arid terrain; the northern highlands with rugged mountain ranges containing the country’s highest peak (2407 m); and the Ogaden region which descends to the south from the highlands and which consists of shallow plateau valleys, wadis and broken mountains. The latter region continues to the Mudug plain in central Somalia.

From Ras Caseyr to the Kenya border, the coast runs north-east to south-west, coinciding with the displacement caused by the Mesozoic marginal subsidence. This general structure is complicated by sedimentary troughs crossing the Horn of Africa, and by large sedimentary basins, cutting the coastline and extending inland into Southern Somalia and Northern Kenya (Juba–Lamu embayment, Mogadishu basin). Offshore, the western Somali Basin extends from Socotra to the Comores. The open shelf environments developed along the Somali coast are a consequence of an extensive marine transgression, connected to coastal subsidence or inland uplift.

The rocks along the southern coastal belt are Pliocene–Pleistocene, and are characterized by a sequence of both marine and continental deposits of skeletal sands, coral build-ups, eolian sands and paleosols. As well as eolian and biogenic sedimentary processes, sea-level fluctuations, Holocene climatic changes and neotectonic movements have combined to produce the modern coastline. A notable feature is an ancient dune ridge complex, known as the Merka red dune, which rims the coast extending beyond the Kenyan border and which separates the narrow coastal belt from the Uebi Shebeli alluvial plain. Two features of note are the Bajuni Archipelago, which consists of islands, islets and skerries, forming a barrier island separated from the coast by a narrow marine sound, and a braided, channelized coastal area, which originated from the drowning of a paleofluvial net.

The southern Somali coast, with that of Kenya and Tanzania, forms part of the Somali Current Large Marine Ecosystem, encompassing 700 000 km2, and extending 800 km between Dar es Salaam and Ras Hafun. Abundant biomass develops here due to upwelling. The shelf area has a wide variety of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass meadows, beaches and estuaries. In shallow water areas the abraded flats are colonized by scattered coral communities with variable cover. A true fringing reef is achieved in places only in the Bajuni archipelago. All along the southern Somali coastal shelf there are spreading meadows of Thalassodendronseagrass, and benthic communities typical of mobile sandy substrates are limited to beach ridges and shoals developed along the coastline. Around the Bajuni barrier island and the channelized area there is more diversity. Mangroves grow on the tidal belts of the channels, and there are expanses of salt flats.

Large-scale alteration produced by man on the Somali coast is relatively recent, but has accelerated in the last few decades, especially around major cities. This alteration affects especially backshore areas where the Pleistocene coral reefs are quarried. At present, the continental shelf is not adequately monitored or protected, so coastal habitats are being degraded, living marine resources are overexploited, and pollution levels are increasing, all of which affect natural resources and biodiversity.

Somalia is one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries, with few resources and devastated by civil war, but since 1993 it has been part of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). This will affect fisheries and aquaculture in terms of the investment, production, trade and fish consumption of the member states. There are currently no marine protected areas and no legislation concerning their establishment and management, although the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) Protected Areas Database lists Busc Busc Game Reserve as an MPA. In 1992, The WCMC also listed the following coastal sites as proposed protected areas: Zeila (important sea bird colonies on offshore islets), Jowhar–Warshek, Awdhegle–Gandershe. The area from Kisimayo to Ras Chiambone is probably of highest priority, as it is important for coral reefs, marine turtles, and mangrove resources, although it is still poorly known.

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