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Ndieulé Mbam, Senegal

Langue de Barbarie

A tree seems to grow from the ocean floor on this strange strip of sand slowly being overtaken by the sea. 

A slim stretch of sand pokes just above the waters off Africa’s western coast. While looking at the landmass from the shore, you may see pelicans floating around a tree that looks like it’s growing from the ocean floor. It’s the remnants of a peninsula that once barred a river from meeting the sea. 

Stretching south from Saint-Louis, the Langue de Barbarie National Park is a narrow peninsula of sand that has historically been the nesting grounds for sea turtles and many species of migrating birds. Originally, the park sprawled uninterrupted from the edge of the city miles down to the mouth of the Senegal River, where it was marked by Fort Balacoss in Gandiol.

In 2003, heavy rains in the region caused the Senegal River to rapidly rise, causing great concern about potential flooding in the historic city of Saint-Louis. Unknown people surreptitiously dug a 13-foot-wide canal into the peninsula the middle of the night in an attempt to lessen the flood waters encroaching upon city. But their attempt to stave off the flood went differently than planned as nature once again took control. The canal became a gateway for the water to begin invading the land.

Within a month, the canal had stretched by thousands of feet and caused the former end of the river to fill with silt and finally close. Soon, the salinity of the river delta changed dramatically and the freshwater fish disappeared upriver. Many local fishermen were forced to change their livelihoods, causing some river fishermen to turn to the sea and even more to take their boats north to Spain and beyond. The breach continued to expand for miles, eventually letting the sea swallow several luxurious hotels. Much of the peninsula vanished beneath the water, essentially transforming the park into something better resembling a small island.

Despite the changes to the region caused by the breach, the Langue de Barbarie still hosts many populations of migrating and local birds. Local communities are attempting to adjust to the challenges of being newly exposed to the direct force of the Atlantic ocean and the increasing salinity of their farmlands.

Know Before You Go

Private tours are often available from hotels in the Saint-Louis if you are not staying near the park itself. The Océan & Savane has opened a new location on the mainland.