Guinea-Bissau is one of the most nature gifted countries in West Africa. The Bijagós Archipelago is a biosphere reserve that has almost 60 of the exotic flora and fauna in Africa. Other nature reserves and parks in Guinea Bissau include João Vieira e Poilão Marine National Park, Ilhas de Orango National Park, Rio Cacheu Nature reserve and Lagoa de Cufada Nature reserve. Cufada is also doubles as the only Ramsar Site in Guinea Bissau although other national parks are home to several species of birds.
The Arquipélago dos Bijagós has more than 80 big islands and islets including the Bolama area. The islands are mainly a complex of large intertidal mudflats and mangroves stretching off the coast and near the Rio Geba delta.
The archipelago covers an estimated 9000sq km of which more than 60% is mudflats and the remaining area mangrove swamp. Other types of vegetation on the islands include the dense forest gallery, floodplains, savannah grasslands and some parts used for agriculture. Many farmlands are found on the banks of the rivers, channels and water streams.
21 of the islands are permanently inhabited by a total population of some 25,000, as are a further 20 islands temporarily. The main ethnic group is the Bijagós, though there has been an influx of other groups, including fishing communities of Senegalese origin.
Some of the islands in the archipelago include Orangozinho, Orango, Canogo, Meneque and Imbone found in the south and morth-east of the Orango are the islands of Bubaque, Rubane, Soga and Canhabaque, with Galinhas lying between Rubane and Bolama. Bubaque is the main commercial and logistical centre of the Bijagós. The northernmost islands of Caravela, Carache, Formosa, Nago and Maio can almost be considered as an extension of the Canal do Gêba. In between this complex and the Orango group lie several smaller islands, including Enú, Uracane and Uno, west of which lie the more isolated Unhocomo and Unhocomozino.
The wildlife in this area is only compared to the Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania. Many birds and Palearctic waders visit the islands during the northern winter. An estimated 900, 000 birds are recorded on the islands.
More than four species of marine turtle breed on the islands and these include the Green Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle and Leatherback Turtle. The Ilhéu do Poilão is the most important nesting area for the green sea turtle in the eastern Atlantic.
Other species of game in the park include dwarf crocodile, West African Manatee, Atlantic humpback dolphin and many others. One of the largest West African Manatee in West Africa is found within the archipelago.
There are two National Parks in the archipelago; Ilhas de Orango National Park and Joao e Pilao Marine Park. Due to its geographic location João Vieira-Poilão National Park, Iles d’Orango National Park & Rio Cacheu Mangroves Natural Park are rich in biodiversity and relatively abundant natural resources.