How one rally is helping combat climate change in Senegal

The world of motorsport is shifting gears towards electric alternatives and with conservation in mind. One such race aims to combat rising sea levels and desertification.
Written by Melanie du Toit
05 August 2021

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Formula One has long drawn fans from across the globe with its gas-guzzling antics and high-intensity racing, but the motorsport is not without its critics – not least because of the public perception of the sport’s impact on the environment.

In 2018, a new motorsport concept was conceived – one that not only offered thrilling spectatorship in extreme environments akin to the Dakar Rally, but one that also highlighted climate change in one of Africa’s most fascinating locations, and aimed to leave a positive impact in its tyre tracks. In short: it was a sport that could withstand the climate crisis.

Extreme E in Lac Rose, Senegal
Extreme E’s all electric motor vehicle line-up. Source | Extreme E

Extreme E and Lake Retba: Motorsport meets Mother Nature

Exciting enough to entice rally enthusiasts but with environmental consciousness at its heart, the FIA-sanctioned, electric, off-road rally series, Extreme E, held its inaugural season this year after months of careful planning. Not only were all the vehicles electric, but all equipment relating to the series was transported on the RMS St Helena to reduce carbon emissions.

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The locations for the three races that have made up the 2021 season were chosen to highlight climate change’s effects on different environments, with legacy programmes remaining in each region to support environmental and social issues in the surrounding areas. In Africa, the stage was set on Senegal’s aptly named Lac Rose

Lac Rose’s pink depths are a result of its high salt content and a particular type of algae native to its waters. Source | Aliunix, Unsplash

Separated from the Indian Ocean by a sliver of sand dunes, this was once the site where the Dakar Rally came to an end in the Sahel. Also known as Lake Retba, this body of water earned its moniker from the coral pink waters caused by a type of algae native to its depths and the high salt content in its waters.

A salt miner working in Lac Rose
A salt miner at work in Lac Rose. Source | Demba JooB, Unsplash

Said to rival that of the famously briny Dead Sea, Lac Rose’s salinity goes above a whopping 40% in parts, a feat that draws up to 30,000 salt miners aboard pirogues (as any motorised engine would rust) and sees 38,000 tonnes of salt harvested and exported annually. Salt mining is an important contributor to the region’s economic sector, but its existence, along with the livelihoods of those who mine the lake, is at risk.

Lake Retba is a natural source of salt, but Senegal is also home to salt farms like the one pictured. The West African nation is the largest producer of salt in the region. Source | Curioso Photography, Unsplash

Melting ice caps, encroaching deserts

The Sahel is one of the most poverty-stricken regions on earth, where communities are facing a rapid depletion of resources due to desertification caused by climate change. Adding to that, Senegal is currently losing up to four metres of coastline each year as a result of rising sea levels, a main driver of this loss being the melting of ice caps thousands of kilometres away. 

Senegalese people are largely agrarian, with livelihoods dependent on farming as well as fishing. But with unpredictable temperatures, ongoing droughts, and rapid loss of coastline, food security is a growing concern and living in the region is becoming increasingly difficult. 

mangrove forest rehabilitation in lac rose
Extreme E’s legacy programme helps plant mangrove forests in the Lac Rose region to combat rising sea levels and desertification. Source | Extreme E

But there is a natural remedy: reforestation. Extreme E has partnered with local NGO, Oceanium, to help plant one million mangrove trees in order to combat desertification and coastline loss, as well as EcoZone Project, “a living lab that addresses Lac Rose community’s primary needs while preserving the environment through experiential learning, regenerative agriculture and a circular economy”. 

Mangrove forests, like this one in Senegal’s Saloum Delta National Park, help prevent soil erosion and reduce high tides while also protecting coastal communities from rising sea levels. Source | Curioso Photography, Unsplash

Visiting Lac Rose

Lake Retba is an easy hour-long drive away from Senegal’s capital, Dakar, and half and full-day trips to Lac Rose are available. Opt for a round-trip to the lake and back, including lunch, a cruise, and the chance to discover the salt-mining industry, or combine your lake tour with a safari at Bandia Wildlife Reserve.

Want to find out more about travelling to Lac Rose or exploring the rest of Senegal? We can help! 

 

 

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