Protecting our ecosystem – International Day for the Conservation of Mangroves

Families from the Korova community plant mangrove seedlings at Laucala Bay in 2017. Picture: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Lin Taylor

With July 26 being International Day for the Conservation of Mangrove Ecosystem, it offers an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of mangroves to the wellbeing of people, communities, and the natural environment.

Globally, mangrove ecosystems are amongst one of the biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. They are critically important to supporting people especially those of coastal communities. They underpin the provision of goods and services that support the diversity and function of life essentially along the coast.

Mangrove ecosystems store up to 10 times more carbon per hectare than terrestrial forests. Most recently, its function as a carbon sink has been key to fighting against climate change. It is a carbonstoring superpower that makes mangroves a critical part of the solution to climate change. When mangroves are degraded or destroyed, their carbon is released as carbon dioxide and contributes to global climate change.

Conservation International (CI), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IoC) of UNESCO lead the Blue Carbon Initiative (BCI), a global collaboration focused on mitigating climate change by conserving and restoring the world’s coastal marine ecosystems, including mangroves.

Through the BCI’s scientific working group, we’re helping to coordinate an agenda for blue carbon research, produce information that supports projects in blue carbon ecosystems, build a global network for blue carbon science and develop a resource of country and region-specific expertise.

Safeguarding Mangrove Ecosystems

Mangrove ecosystems are found mostly across the tropics and subtropics of which they occupy close to 136 countries and territories with over 70 species of mangroves.

Each of these mangrove species are unique to specific ecological niche and habitat. With man replanting activities, it is unfortunate there is often very little regard to getting the right species to plant in the right place which often has resulted to many unsuccessful efforts – the wrong kind in the wrong place will not survive!

To date, close to 35% of the world’s mangroves have been lost since 1980 largely due to coastal development, unsustainable aquaculture, and sea-level rise. Unsurprisingly, given the growing understanding of their value and the rapid global loss of mangroves, there is a global push to better protect and manage these vital ecosystems.

Fiji’s mangroves cover a 65,243 hectare of estate. According to recent mangrove landcover change study by CI, Fiji lost 1135 hectare of mangroves, between 2001 and 2018, with an annual rate of loss of 0.11 percent.

Tropical cyclones accounted for 77 percent of this loss with the highest losses occurring along the northern coastlines of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

Positively, our coastal and mangrove communities are well informed about the importance of mangrove conservation. In CI’s recent blue carbon perception survey, the 22 communities selected project sites in Viti Levu and Vanua Levu all indicated a well-informed trend about the benefits of conserving mangroves as well as the impact of losing mangrove ecosystems.

And so, in continuing past, present and future mangrove initiatives our aim is to preserve, if not improve, the status of mangrove ecosystems and at the same time look for opportunities to increase its extent of coverage.

Mangroves matter, we need to conserve them and here’s why.

Mangroves help keep people and homes safe. Its forests are the first line of defense and barriers that offers natural protection, especially for those coastline communities who are most vulnerable to sea-level rise, cyclones, and flooding of low-lying areas.

Mangroves store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem on Earth. The carbon stored in the plants and soil of coastal marine ecosystems is often referred to as “blue carbon,” and mangrove forests are some of the richest ecosystems for blue carbon in the world.

Mangroves as a forest have been the source of many things like shelter, medicine, building materials, firewood, and other wood extracts, that dependent communities rely on for survival.

Mangroves give the coastline its shape and helps fighting coral bleaching. Trees that make up the mangrove forest have dense root systems that allows for filtering and trapping of sediments and pollutants, as well as helps stabilizes and reduce severe soil erosions and prevent contamination in the downstream and the protection of other marine ecosystems such as seagrass beds and coral reefs.

Additionally, mangrove ecosystems are some of the most biologically diverse on the planet. Consequently, you find all sorts of plants, such as orchids, ferns, bryophytes, including fungi living in different parts of the mangrove forest. It is also home to many species of fishes, crabs, shellfish, sea turtles, migratory birds, snakes, cane toads, and butterflies. Some of which could quite possibly be on the conservation list of endangered species known as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Support conservation efforts

Mangrove ecosystems can only benefit the people and the environment if appropriate actions are implemented with continued conservation measures. A declining rate loss of mangroves destruction, regardless of the magnitude, should not mean complacency in supportive investment efforts. Instead, we should realize its roles and significance of value in forming the very foundation of coastal life and find alternative sources.

CI through its Fiji program has just secured a three year (2020/2021-2023/2024) blue carbon pilot project in Fiji that focusses on the adaptation and mitigation outcomes for resilient communities, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia.

As advocates you can do your part by being informed and educated about mangrove destruction and the impact it has on the environment; Join a local conservation group or government organization and support them in their mangrove initiatives.

And lastly, should all else fail, simply be a lover, not a hater, for nature!

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