German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Handbook: Using satellite images for wetland management in Africa

Sentinel-2 satellite image of the Northwest coast of Madagascar and the Mahavavy-Kinkony Reserve (© Copernicus Sentinel 2020, provided by ESA)
Satellite image of a dynamic coastal landscape.


African wetlands are not only the habitat of countless animal and plant species, they also provide water, food and natural resources to local populations and thus contribute to sustaining their livelihoods.  However, lakes and rivers, marshes and swamps, mangrove forests and coral reefs are threatened by increasing land use pressures, land conversion, pollution and climate change. Using satellite data, wetland managers are able to classify the diverse habitats, track land use changes, plan management measures and communicate results. Within a BfN-funded project, a handbook was developed for this purpose.

Enlarged image section: Mangrove forests in the Mahavavy River Delta, Madagascar (Sentinel-2 satellite image © Copernicus Sentinel 2020, provided by ESA)
Mangroves and branching river courses in the Mahavavy River Delta.
Enlarged image section: Fields and settlements along the banks of the Mahavavy River, Madagascar (Sentinel-2 satellite image © Copernicus Sentinel 2020, provided by ESA)
Fields and settlements along the banks of the Mahavavy River.

The project

The main objective of the project was to promote the use of remote sensing data (i.e. satellite imagery) for the sustainable management of wetlands in Africa. Therefore, two multi-day consultation workshops were held with African wetland managers to discuss existing approaches, demand and areas of application. The first workshop took place in September 2019 as a physical meeting in Zambia, the second in July 2020 as a virtual workshop with hosts from Benin. Experts from over twenty Southern and Western African countries shared their experiences, discussed challenges for wetland conservation and identified potential areas of application for satellite data.

Sentinel-2 satellite image of the Okavango Delta, Botswana (© Copernicus Sentinel 2020, provided by ESA)
The Okavango River fans out in the Kalahari Basin, forming the largest inland delta of the world.

The workshops also included training sessions in which the free software toolbox "GEOclassifier" was introduced. The toolbox had been developed specifically for the use of satellite data in wetland management through several preceding projects funded by the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA). Using GEOclassifier, freely available satellite imagery can be used, for example, to map wetlands in remote areas that are difficult to access physically, or to create detailed land use maps via a semi-automated classification process. With time series of images with different acquisition dates, users can also map seasonal high and low water, analyse losses of natural wetland types or the expansion of certain land use classes, and calculate spatial statistics or further indicators.

Sentinel-2 satellite image of the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam in Kafue National Park, Zambia (© Copernicus Sentinel 2019, provided by ESA)
Itezhi-Tezhi Dam at low water.

The results of the workshops and the diverse application options of the GEOclassifier toolbox were summarised in the handbook "Using Satellite Images for Wetland Management and Planning in Africa". Furthermore, the handbook contains case studies from eleven African countries on possible uses for remote sensing data in the management of selected "Wetlands of International Importance" or Ramsar protected areas. The project was conducted in close cooperation with the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention).


Handbook "Using Satellite Images for Wetland Management and Planning in Africa" (coming soon!)

Project type

Research and development Project


January 2018 - November 2020

Project region



International cooperation

Responsible division

Division of International Nature Conservation, FG I 2.3

Contact person

Last Change: 23/03/2021