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    Land Cover Dynamics and Mangrove Degradation in the Niger Delta Region

    Nababa, Iliya Ishaku, Symeonakis, Elias ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1724-2869, Koukoulas, Sotirios, Higginbottom, Thomas P, Cavan, Gina ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8429-870X and Marsden, Stuart (2020) Land Cover Dynamics and Mangrove Degradation in the Niger Delta Region. Remote Sensing, 12 (21). p. 3619.

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    The Niger Delta Region is the largest river delta in Africa and features the fifth largest mangrove forest on Earth. It provides numerous ecosystem services to the local populations and holds a wealth of biodiversity. However, due to the oil and gas reserves and the explosion of human population it is under threat from overexploitation and degradation. There is a pressing need for an accurate assessment of the land cover dynamics in the region. The limited previous efforts have produced controversial results, as the area of western Africa is notorious for the gaps in the Landsat archive and the lack of cloud-free data. Even fewer studies have attempted to map the extent of the degraded mangrove forest system, reporting low accuracies. Here, we map the eight main land cover classes over the NDR using spectral-temporal metrics from all available Landsat data centred around three epochs. We also test the performance of the classification when L-band radar data are added to the Landsat-based metrics. To further our understanding of the land cover change dynamics, we carry out two additional assessments: a change intensity analysis for the entire NDR and, focusing specifically on the mangrove forest, we analyse the fragmentation of both the healthy and the degraded mangrove land cover classes. We achieve high overall classification accuracies in all epochs (~79% for 1988, and 82% for 2000 and 2013) and are able to map the degraded mangroves accurately, for the first time, with user’s accuracies between 77% and 87% and producer’s accuracies consistently above 82%. Our results show that mangrove forests, lowland rainforests, and freshwater forests are reporting net and highly intense losses (mangrove net loss: ~500 km2; woodland net loss: ~1400 km2), while built-up areas have almost doubled in size (from 1990 km2 in 1988 to 3730 km2 in 2013). The mangrove forests are also consistently more fragmented, with the opposite effect being observed for the degraded mangroves in more recent years. Our study provides a valuable assessment of land cover dynamics in the NDR and the first ever accurate estimates of the extent of the degraded mangrove forest and its fragmentation.

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