Restoring mangroves in west Africa a challenge, but UNEP shows the way

Mangrove ecosystem in western Indian Ocean, comprising 10 African countries, is rapidly depleting

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 31 July 2020

The mangrove ecosystem in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) comprising 10 African nations is rapidly getting depleted; some areas have reportedly lost as much as 88 per cent of the cover, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Conserving and restoring mangroves is essential and a nature-based solution is required to address adverse environmental, societal and climatic challenges in the region, according to the new UNEP guidelines on mangrove ecosystem restoration for the WIO region. 

West Africa accounts for 31 per cent of the mangrove cover in the continent.  

The threats

The UNEP status report stated that the ecosystem was under threat due to the increasing population, coastal development and poor governance.

Climate change poses a risk to the remaining mangrove areas, mainly through rising sea levels and increased sedimentation caused by precipitation and shoreline change. In fact, the future of mangroves is uncertain especially in the region, according to another report.

According to the Global Mangroves Alliance, 67 per cent of mangroves have been lost or degraded to date, and an additional one per cent being lost each year. Without mangroves, 39 per cent more people would face threat of floods annually and flood damage would increase by more than 16 per cent.

The guidelines came a week after the high-level panel on ocean called for mangrove conservation and restoration. Every $1 invested in mangrove conservation and restoration generates a benefit of $3, estimated the panel.

Livelihoods of coastal communities depend on mangroves, and therefore, restoring mangroves could also contribute to “building back better” through green recovery after the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic ends, according to UNEP.

Mangroves also drive eco-tourism, create jobs; there is a need for an interaction between local communities and mangroves that is often ignored during formulation of mangrove restoration projects, the document pointed.

 “Mangroves are essential life support system for coastal communities in the WIO region,” said James Kairo, chief scientist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute and lead author of the guidelines.

“If degradation continues, communities will be without resources for shelter or fuel, food or a means to make a living,” he added.

Restoring mangroves is possible but challenging

Restoring mangroves is possible but challenging, according to the UN show casing case studies on mangrove restoration projects from Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles.

Mangrove restoration can be used as a tool to return the lost forest in order to achieve the objectives of sustainable mangrove management, said the UN citing Kenya’s experience.

Restoring mangroves is feasible as long as the questions of why, where, when, how and by whom are appropriately addressed, it added. 

While analysing the challenges faced by the community-based mangrove restoration projects, the global UN organisation also enlisted the possible solutions:

Golden rules for identifying site for restoration

The UNEP document underlined the Golden Rules proposed by Enright and Wodehouse to be considered for restoration.

It stated that the degraded site should be accessible and devoid of strong waves.  Planting should be restricted to vegetated areas where the forest has been degraded and lost.

Long-term monitoring

Lack of monitoring is one of the major reasons behind failures of most restoration projects, and hence, monitoring mangrove restoration projects is important, the UNEP said.

Rehabilitation of the degraded mangroves must be considered as a programme and not a short-term project, since the communities have to be engaged and empowered, it added.

UN recommended development of alternative income generating activities (IGAs) targeted at all mangrove users, including mangrove cutters.

Explore ecosystem services 

At least $1.2 billion is the economic value of protection provided by coral reefs and mangroves in the WIO, according to WWF estimates.

Hence, ecotourism and payment for ecosystem services programmes should be explored, UN recommended, citing successful restoration of mangroves at Gazi bay, Kenya.

It is supposedly the world’s first conservation project that linked mangrove forests to the global carbon market. It was able to provide direct income to participating community from sale of carbon credits.

Most mangrove-restoration efforts have emphasized on planting as the primary tool for managing degraded areas, rather than first assessing causes for the degradation and then assessing the natural recovery opportunities, the UN noted.

But mangrove ecosystem is dynamic and the degraded mangrove areas may recover naturally. Natural recovery must be considered before initiating any mangrove planting activities, cautioned the UN document.

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