The all-female workforce is part of a visionary project committed to protecting the wetland forests. Now their challenge is to earn a sustainable living year-round
• Photographs by Jason Florio
In the cool air of an April dawn, Marie Sambou, an oyster harvester, carves through the brown water of the Gambia River’s Tanbi wetland in her long wooden canoe. The size of Manhattan, Tanbi teems with life. The mangroves provide an important habitat for many birds and fish, which nest, breed and spawn in the protective, nutrient-rich environment. Snow-white egrets stalk schools of needle-like fish nipping through the shallows as curlews and hornbills whirl overhead, and higher still, vultures turn in lazy circles.
For the next six hours or so, while the tide remains low enough to work, Sambou will paddle along the forests on the riverbank, knocking hard, rock-like west African mangrove oysters (Crassostrea tulipa) from the exposed mangrove roots. It is tedious, physical work – and painful. Sambou has only thin gloves and socks for protection; her hands and feet are scarred from the razor-edged oyster shells.
Members of the TRY Oyster Women’s Association, based in the Gambian village of Lamin. Below left, the harvesters head out on Lamin Bolong, a tributary of the Gambia River, to collect oysters from the mangroves. Right, Marie Sambou and another member of the association in their canoes