Oysters, a popular delicacy in the Gambia, grow wild in the country’s delicate and scenic mangroves (located in places where seas and rivers mix). Mangroves are among the most productive and biologically complex ecosystems on earth, but they are also in grave danger from development, deforestation, salt-panning, pollution and over-exploitation. In a mangrove forest, an oyster takes 6 months to grow, attaching itself to the mangrove root system.
Oyster harvesters in The Gambia gather the oysters from the mangrove roots using rudimentary tools. Often, these women cannot swim and therefore they their lives in small locally-crafted canoes in order to bring in a few dalasis a day for their families. Oyster beds are also sharp and dangerous; a risky place for a person without proper shoes or gloves. After carefully gathering the oysters, the women traditionally steam (or grill them), remove their shells, and then sell them at the market and to individuals, hotels and restaurants. The shells are often burned to white powder which is then locally use as white paint for painting houses.