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Baobab Trust and planning green futures, UK support Islandaid– Sierra Leone ecotourism development in Tasso Island

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Baobab Trust and planning green futures, UK support Islandaid– Sierra Leone ecotourism development in Tasso Island

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IslandAid Sierra Leone and Baobab Trust, UK/Planning Green Futures Charitable Trust in collaboration with Tasso Island Community Trust, decided to engage in ecotourism development project, to address the herculean social and economic challenges in the Island. The other focus areas of intervention are conservation biodiversity, environmental health, sustainable livelihood and community infrastructure.

The Tasso Island community, which comprises five towns, (Tasso, Oku, Samgblima, Kissi and Allen) is to directly benefit from the development initiative; but also the sister islands along the Rokel and Bangasoka rivers (Ramsar sites) of the Sierra Leone estuary.

This project is creating a community-based eco-tourism camp on Tasso Island, in the Sierra Leone Rover Estuary. It is supported by a charity, the Baobab Trust, UK, working in partnership with IslandAid Sierra Leone.  The start-up cost incurred in implementing the project was funded by Baobab Trust as a loan. With the pious hope expecting that the project would reaslise a favourable turnover to cushion its overhead burden; and a residual to prepay the loan, the development will be handed over to the islanders, who have formed the Tasso Island Community Trust for this purpose.  The project is seen by the National Tourist Board as a model for future community agreements to promote ecotourism across the country.

The concept, project design and management leadership is provided by Planning Green Futures International (UK) which has a local office in Freetown (PGF-SL Ltd) established in 2012.  This company prepared the Government’s new Eco-Tourism Policy (currently being promoted by the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs) and Tasso Island is the first area to benefit directly from the policy. Close links are being developed with the National Tourist Board, Monuments and Relics Commission, the National Protected Areas Authority, the Environment Protection Agency and international partners, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB UK) and Birdlife International.

The eco-camp consists of seven timber and canvas chalets, providing accommodation for up to 20 resident visitors, set in forest above a sand beach on the southern shore of the Island. Day visitors from Freetown will be able to enjoy its facilities and a 60 seat restaurant, which will offer local cuisine and seafood prepared to international standards by specially trained staff from the island.  Up to 12 full time jobs will be created initially to be filled by residents of Tasso and Pepel Islands.  The project will rely on solar power, rainwater harvesting and compost toilets in order to minimize all environmental impacts.

Visitors will be transported to Tasso in a purpose-built 20 seater sea-going canoe, the “GLADI-GLADI” named to celebrate the Country’s recovery from Ebola, to commemorate those who gave their lives and to mark a new beginning for the Island, which is part of the City of Freetown and one of its most neglected, abandoned, deprived and impoverished quarters.

A typical three day visit to Tasso Island Ecotourism Camp will include visits to Bunce Island and Pullunmant on Tasso, where the ancestors of perhaps as many as 20% of today’s Americans were incarcerated in British forts during the slave trade. The island itself offers exciting opportunities for cultural exchanges, canoe rides through mangrove forest, walking tours and direct participation in island development activities but visitors will also be encouraged to travel to Gola Forest, Turtle and Sherbro Islands, the Loma Mountain and other attractions around the country.

An all-out effort is being made to have the camp ready by Easter 2017 and celebrations are planned to mark the occasion.  A party of four UK oarsmen (veterans from Cambridge University) is flying to Lungi to compete against a Tasso Island crew in the first Tasso Island Boat Race on Thursday 23rd March.  Two rowing canoes are being built on Pepel Island specifically for the race. The day will be an occasion for major celebrations across the island and the organisers hope to attract international interest and sponsorship for this and future ecotourism projects in Sierra Leone, to be promoted by IslandAid.  An earlier event to launch the Gladi-Gladi in January on Pepel Island has already attracted significant media attention.

The Tasso Island Community Trust will be the beneficiary of any funds generated by Tasso Ecotourism project canoe.  It will also receive any donations offered by visitors to support community-based initiatives.  These initiatives will be chosen by the Tasso Island Community Trust and can involve conservation, livelihoods development, health, education, water supply and sanitation and renewable energy.

The other pending activity to be held in April 2017(the specific date yet to be fixed) is the launching of the islands’ Newsletter, a vanguard to creating the awareness for the preservation and promotion of islands’ environmental health and conservation biodiversity in order to attract tourism development/investment. It is therefore expected of the government through its line MDAs to catalyse commitment to support our Islands’ development agenda geared to promoting island resilience and tourism development

Tasso Island Ecotourism Project will be managed by a small team of International and Sierra Leonean specialists who are well vast in business administration and the tourism sector. Staff will be recruited for the establishment and running of the project and the canoe transport from residents of Tasso Island.

To actualize the dream of development optimism and island resilience as a safe haven for tourists’ attraction; and in transforming the lives of the islanders, IslandAid Sierra Leone in partnership with the Islands community stakeholders is imploring government through its MDAs to support this novel initiative, in addressing Pillar one of the agenda for prosperity.

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