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Mangroves
Credit: NPL - Tim Laman

Mangroves

Call to action:

Protect and restore mangrove forests and the communities around them to preserve one of the most important and threatened ecosystems on the planet.

Mangroves are trees and shrubs uniquely adapted to tidal zones, where many varieties of fish, birds, and endangered animals shelter among their roots and branches. Many indigenous communities steward their biodiversity and rely on them for subsistence living, wood, medicine, and flood protection. Although mangrove forests cover only 0.1 percent of all land, they are among the planet’s most effective carbon storage systems. However, over 50 percent of the world’s mangrove forest area has disappeared in the last fifty years, mostly due to urbanization, agriculture, and aquaculture. Other threats include rising sea levels and water temperatures caused by climate change. Although some mangrove forests can restore themselves naturally under the right conditions, rebuilding the world’s mangroves requires not only planting seeds but ensuring the people who care for them thrive too.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn why mangrove forests are important and why they are so threatened. Mangrove habitats are underappreciated and therefore vulnerable to being degraded or destroyed. They are declining under pressure from urban development, shrimp aquaculture, and palm oil plantations. There are about eighty species of mangroves living on tropical and semitropical coastlines where tides inundate their soil with salt water. Global Mangrove Watch has a map showing the extent of mangroves, current losses, and density of carbon storage.

Share information with others. One of the most important things you can do to protect mangroves is share how valuable they are.

If you eat shrimp, do so sustainably. Mangrove forests are often destroyed to create shrimp-farm ponds, which means farmed shrimp have one of the largest carbon footprints of any food. In just a few years, most shrimp ponds become unproductive and are abandoned, leaving barren areas. Shrimp aquaculture can displace indigenous fisheries, and the deforestation exposes local communities to floods, while reducing habitat for wild shrimp.

  • Look for sustainable wild-caught shrimp or mangrove-safe farmed shrimp that either comes from areas without mangroves or is farmed in ways that can coexist with mangroves. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch can help you choose shrimp that are environmentally and socially responsible.
  • Ask your grocer and your favorite restaurants for sustainable shrimp. Shrimp farmers are responsive to consumer demands.

Avoid products containing palm oil. Many mangrove forests have been destroyed in order to convert the land to palm oil plantations. Even palm oil that is claimed to be sustainable has likely been grown on recently deforested land. In 2020, palm oil plantations were the primary cause of mangrove deforestation in North Sumatra. See Palm Oil Nexus.

Support indigenous communities and groups that assist them in doing mangrove protection and restoration work. Indigenous peoples and local communities are crucial in efforts to protect mangroves and are the most harmed when they are cut down. Indigenous peoples depend on mangrove areas and often have effective methods of stewardship, such as maintaining some areas as sacred and restricting certain uses. The Global Mangrove Alliance lists effective projects with a number of partners (see Key Players).

Be a responsible tourist in mangrove regions. Visiting mangrove habitat with its rich fauna and great food can be a way to learn more about this fascinating ecosystem. Sustainable tourism can help protect mangroves, improve income and job opportunities, and even reduce gender inequality. However, tourism can also harm communities. This “eco-resort” from a company that says it is sustainable is actually cutting down mangroves in a sensitive area. Staying in places that adhere to sustainable tourism standards can help. So can locally based ecotourism that doesn’t rely on cutting down mangroves to create resorts.

Prevent plastics pollution. Mangroves are efficient at accumulating floating trash, and the debris can suffocate their roots as well as harm wildlife. Plastics used within 30 miles (50 kilometers) of the coast are especially likely to end up in the water (see Plastics Industry Nexus).

If you live near mangroves, act to protect them.

  • Prevent damage. Keep livestock out of mangrove areas, don’t ride off-road vehicles there, and don’t walk through mangroves at low tide. If harvesting mollusks, harvest at low tide and remove carefully so as not to damage roots.
  • Trim mangroves carefully. Help them maintain leaf cover so they can regrow after pruning.
  • Be a mangrove watcher. Based in Australia but active in the United States and looking to expand worldwide, MangroveWatch partners with citizen scientists to monitor mangroves.

Groups

Local Governments, Nonprofits, and Communities

Governments, nonprofits, and communities have all initiated successful mangrove restoration projects, and many involve collaboration among all three.

  • Implement best practices such as Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR). Community support, careful site assessment, and ecological restoration can make the difference between a mudflat and a thriving forest. The following principles are common to successful projects.
  • Start with local community participation and input. Oceanium Dakar used the cinéma-débat method (film screenings with discussions on mangroves) and other community-centered work to stimulate discussion of mangrove restoration, thus seeding a network of four hundred villages that has successfully replanted mangroves and established community-managed marine protected areas. Communities may need education on the importance and ecology of mangroves, while they can provide detailed information on site history or topics like hydrology and seasons for collecting propagules (seeds that begin to sprout on the tree, drop off, and float to new sites). Involving communities in nursery tending, channel building, planting where necessary, monitoring, and sometimes law enforcement is key to success and can provide needed income.
  • Assess sites thoroughly. Knowing environmental characteristics such as hydrology, wind/wave exposure, substrate/soil type, mangrove stressors, and social characteristics (especially land tenure), are critical to success. The flow of water within the site may need to be changed, as in abandoned shrimp ponds, where the walls of the ponds need to be leveled or breached so water can flow in and out.
  • Plant only if needed. Given a good site and appropriate water flow, mangroves can restore themselves without needing to be planted. If seeding or replanting is necessary, assess nearby sites for appropriate species, understand their zones, and gather seeds locally. Different planting patterns depending on wind and wave energy can improve seedling success.
  • Monitor for three to five years. Not only does this provide data on whether the project was successful, it can provide early warning signs that allow troubleshooting the problems and can be a feedback tool for upgrading future projects.
  • Ensure that nearby communities can succeed economically while using mangrove areas sustainably. This may require developing alternative livelihoods. TRY Oyster Women’s Association in Gambia has improved oyster gathering and processing techniques for local women, worked out a management plan for the mangrove ecosystems where they harvest, successfully reforested mangroves in several communities, and improved the women’s financial security and quality of life. Mangrove beekeeping and honey production benefits mangroves and communities around them and can be done with local wild bees.

Companies

Rethink your plastic packaging. More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, and plastic waste makes up 80 percent of all marine debris, from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. Thick deposits of coastal plastic can kill mangroves (see Plastics Industry Nexus).

Source sustainable shrimp. Corporations that buy shrimp can greatly improve their carbon footprint by buying certified sustainably raised or sustainably wild-caught shrimp, which can improve livelihoods while protecting mangroves.

  • The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) standards prohibit the conversion of mangroves and other intact habitat, while requiring fair labor practices and healthy treatment of the shrimp. They publish a frequently updated list of suppliers here.
  • Naturland provides organic aquaculture certification. They partner with shrimp farmers in Vietnam, India, and Bangladesh to provide technical advice and ensure that mangroves are protected.
  • Selva Shrimp raises shrimp in integrated mangrove systems where they use no feed or chemicals and cause no widespread deforestation.
  • The Marine Stewardship Council can help you find suppliers for certified wild-caught shrimp.

Governance

Develop a robust inventory for mangroves. Creating a national inventory of mangroves is necessary for integrating mangroves into climate goals and policy.

Set aside protected areas for mangroves. Protected areas are especially effective when regulations are lacking or difficult to enforce.

Collaborate with local communities to create community-based mangrove forest management agreements. The interests and knowledge of local communities need to be taken into account. Top-down science-based management that doesn’t integrate local concerns and understanding is likely to fail, whereas community-based mangrove forest management increases biodiversity and enables indigenous people to benefit from the ecosystems they rely on and protect.

  • In Ecuador, the Socio Manglar program combines ecosystem-service payments with Sustainable Use and Mangrove Custody Agreements (AUSCM) that give communities rights to sustainable use and responsibilities for surveillance.
  • In Thailand, villages built on traditional management of village mangrove forests to create village networks in collaboration with an NGO, leading to informal recognition from the government and improved forest structure compared to state-managed forests.
  • The Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project provided resources and capacity building to local communities, which monitor, restore, and raise awareness of mangroves, including a successful ecotourism program.
  • In Indonesia, communities with strong local leadership had the best mangrove restoration outcomes.

Regulate for regenerative use of mangroves. Where regulation is well enforced, large unfragmented areas of mangroves are more likely to survive. The most effective approaches depend on the national context. Options include the following:

  • Collaborate with NGOs to increase funding and capacity for mangrove capacity initiatives, as in Costa Rica and Madagascar.
  • Create strong policy on aquaculture to protect mangroves, including prohibiting conversion of mangroves to shrimp aquaculture and requiring abandoned ponds to be restored to mangroves, as in the Philippines, or requiring mangrove cover with aquaculture ponds, as in Vietnam.
  • Carefully craft policies on cutting or clearing mangroves to address a major driver of mangrove loss while honoring traditional subsistence activities. Policies may include permitting or a requirement to reforest, as in Mozambique and Vietnam. The Matang Mangrove Forest has been sustainably logged using rotational cutting for 120 years.
  • Integrate mangrove management across sectors and agencies for greater clarity and efficiency. Mangroves may be considered under forest, marine, or wetland regulations, or a combination of the three. Options to integrate management include considering mangroves part of a nation’s national heritage (as Costa Rica) or national capital (Madagascar); prioritizing mangrove ecosystems as critical for climate change (Mexico); and mandating coordination of mangrove management (India).
  • Clarify land tenure and/or use rights to protect indigenous and local subsistence rights and promote restoration. Mangrove deforestation is often driven by inequality in land tenure. In a survey of mangrove experts worldwide, all Southeast Asia respondents stated that land tenure issues were an obstacle to restoration.
  • Regulate pollution sources that especially need it, including shrimp aquaculture, pollution from urbanization (dumping can even change hydrology), oil spills, and plastics.
  • Ensure those affected by regulation also benefit from it to prevent perverse incentives and make regulation effective.

Incentivize mangrove protection.

Conduct public information campaigns for fishers and other mangrove users on the ecology of mangroves and their flora and fauna. In Brazil, the Let the Crabs Date! campaign reduces catch of mangrove crabs during breeding season, thus improving the crab fishery. The Bakjuana mascot educates Filipinos on the importance of mangroves and strengthens Marine Protected Areas.

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