22 Feb 2017

Saving Lake Oursi with phones and Facebook

Members of the Site Support Group at Oursi © Seydou Nacro
Members of the Site Support Group at Oursi © Seydou Nacro
By Seydou Nacro

Volunteer conservationists in rural Burkina Faso are turning to social media in order to save their local wetland. The Lake Oursi Site Support Group are using smart phones to respond immediately to fires and poaching. The group is a passionate volunteer group entrusted to care for their local Important Bird Areas. Lake Oursi is an important wetland in the landlocked West African state.

Large numbers of Palearctic bird species migrating within the region use the lake annually and a population of 16,000 people depend on it for livelihood. Unfortunately, this wetland of global importance is facing many threats including overgrazing, siltation, eutrophication, deforestation, poaching of birds and the collection of birds’ eggs which have led to a rapid decline of migratory birds in the area.

Alarmed by this environmental challenge, the Site Support Group (SSG) working in collaboration with the Fondation des Amis de La Nature – Naturama (BirdLife in Burkina Faso) and the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat in West Africa, organised a workshop to sensitise communities in and around Oursi on the types, uses and impacts of social media.

View of Lake Oursi © Seydou Nacro

“At the time of conducting this training and the creation of the Facebook platform early last year, at least 4 members of the SSGs had access to smart phones. This made it much easier to conduct tutorials on social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Imo among others,” said Francois Kamano, Sub Regional Project Officer at BirdLife Africa Secretariat.

The widespread use of social networks has provided a powerful tool for groups conserving Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) to spread their messages and build communities that share a common vision. The SSG in Oursi once relied on traditional media to disseminate conservation messages but have now turned to social media as a channel for their conservation campaigns to preserve Lake Oursi.

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“Facebook is like our local radio station, our television and newspaper because it is a real media channel through which we can be informed and quickly communicate externally,” said Aly, member of the group.

BirdLife recognises communities as champions for conservation of nature and engage them through Site Support Groups in key priority conservation areas. In Oursi, these volunteers have described social media as a vehicle for their conservation and advocacy campaigns because they have effectively used it to circulate information to large audiences very quickly.

The timely communication among group members has helped to save at least 50 wild ducks, according to Mr Kamano. Alerts on fire outbreaks have been communicated in a more targeted manner. Bird data and pictures that were stored at the Oursi field stations are transmitted safely and fast.

The rapid communication has influenced perceptions in local communities around Lake Oursi about conserving biodiversity. The SSG has used social media to raise awareness about the importance of the site and activities that threaten its conservation.

“These social networks allow us to stay in touch with friends and partners. When BirdLife Partners like Naturama, RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), VBN or LPO publish something, we receive it instantly and can react to it. We are no longer disconnected from the world despite limited resources,” said Aly.

The social networks have also facilitated, built and nurtured relationships among the SSG members, increased collaboration on bird sightings with other SSGs in Sorou and Higa and have provided a platform for them to share information about projects and meetings.

“We communicate or share information with any one we wish at any moment. Social networks have reduced our work. Years ago, we had to write reports, put them in an envelope and send to Naturama office in Ouagadougou. Today, we simply send them over the internet,” explained Oumarou Issa, another member of the SSG.

Encouraged by the success of the social media, the SSG with assistance from Naturama is in the process of establishing a communications unit to further strengthen its campaign efforts at Lake Oursi. With improved infrastructure including computers, the community at Oursi can also be in a position to access web-based platform known as Capacity for Conservation and can also use Skype for business when urgent decisions are required. There is also need for a server to store their reports, maps and other relevant materials that could be used to give visibility to their work. The unit will also be trained to produce high quality videos for posting on social media to raise awareness and protect the wetland.