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Mangrove protection still hit and miss

by Julie Mollins | @jmollins | CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)
Wednesday, 19 March 2014 03:33 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Mangroves are key for protection against rising seas and storms, and to store carbon, but they face conflicting policies and priorities

When Ulva Takke heard that a foreign-owned firm planned to set up an iron ore mine on the tiny island of Bangka in the province of North Sulawesi, she joined forces with other residents in a protest that went all the way to Indonesia’s supreme court.

Takke owns a scuba-diving business on the 4,800-hectare (ha) island, which is populated by fewer than 3,000 people and supports a small tourism industry, as well as fishing, aquaculture and agriculture.

Although the community won its appeal against the mining project, news reports indicate that the company is still preparing to begin work, a move that could put pristine habitats at risk, including lowland tropical rainforest, mangroves, freshwater sago swamp and coral reefs.

“If so, it’s going to be a big disaster,” Takke said. “Livelihoods of traditional fishermen and coconut harvesters will be destroyed and many people will be displaced.”

Takke was among more than 100 delegates debating solutions to the threats faced by Indonesia’s mangrove forests at the Restoring Coastal Livelihoods conference hosted at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) by Indonesia’s Mangrove Action Project (MAP) and the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP).

The three-day meeting was part of a project of the same name supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and facilitated by the non-governmental organization Oxfam in 72 villages throughout the province of South Sulawesi. The project focused on restoring coastal intertidal resources including mangroves, and on improving aquaculture and coastal agriculture management.


Delegates discussed concerns reported by MAP that Indonesia’s Ministry of Fisheries is considering converting vast tracts of mangroves to increase aquaculture production.

The fisheries plans sit in marked contrast to the plans of the Ministry of Forestry, which has put in place a sustainable strategy for mangrove protection and use, according to Ben Brown, MAP’s chief technical advisor.

“Policy regarding the whole intertidal region was very unclear. Even policy around protected areas wasn’t adequate — there was a lot of illegal conversion and degradation, so even in protected areas anyone could write a permit for land conversion and change.”

Conference delegates worked on developing strategies for collaboration to ensure coastal communities can negotiate with government officials, academic scholars and other stakeholders.

“The key message of the seminar was that government mangrove agencies should be strengthened with greater community involvement,” Brown said. “Let’s not disregard these agencies and say they won’t work — let’s try to strengthen them and provide them with clear tools that aren’t prescriptive and overly simplistic.”

Since 1980, Indonesia has lost more than 26 percent of its mangroves, which have shrunk in area from 4.2 million ha to 3.1 million ha in large measure due to an increase in aquaculture ponds created as part of the “blue revolution” of the late 20th century. Mangrove ecosystems are favored for shrimp production because they are flooded twice a day in intertidal areas between land and sea, with brackish water creating an ideal habitat.

Scientist Jurgenne Primavera, a Philippine-based mangrove specialist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Zoological Society of London, proposes the use of protective “mosaic landscapes” to help restore degraded coastlines.

“Instead of a company coming in and saying they’re going to produce an unknown quantity of shrimp, they must instead say they’re going to look at the entire community, then the ecosystems — starting with the mangroves,” Primavera said.


Mangroves also help protect coastal areas from erosion and inland areas from high waves.

Since Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013 — killing more than 6,200 people — coastal buffer zones that mangroves can provide have become a major concern, Primavera said, adding that there are many abandoned fish ponds that could be converted back to mangroves.

In the Philippines, coastlines are almost completely dedicated to fish ponds, she said.

Primavera proposes shoreline barriers characterized by a band of mangroves and a beach forest, with aquaculture ponds, beach resorts and other developments in the landward zone behind the coastal buffer zone.

“I’m proposing for the Philippines … a minimum 100-meter solid green belt of mangroves and/or beach forests,” she said. “A green belt would serve to both restore and maintain the coastline and aid shrimp producers trying to get certification for organic shrimp — as the Vietnamese government has planned for the Cà Mau Peninsula in the south of the country,” she said.


Another threat to mangroves and coastlines under discussion is rising sea levels caused by global warming.

“We don’t know what sea-level rise is going to be — we know the direction it is going, but we don’t know the rate and the magnitude,” said Dan Friess, an assistant professor with the University of Singapore who is measuring the surface elevation of mangroves in Thailand and Singapore to establish a baseline.

“Once a mangrove starts to break up, trees are lost and by that point it is too late to save it,” he said.

“Mangroves are not static and can tolerate a certain amount of flooding, but over time they can drown. What we are most interested in is whether we have the mangroves that have the ability to respond to whatever rate sea-level rise may be, and how we can manage a mangrove to help it respond.”


Carbon-rich mangrove ecosystems have a crucial role to play in global climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies — not only do they provide a wide range of ecosystem services, but research indicates they store higher amounts of carbon than other forest types, according to Daniel Murdiyarso, a principal scientist with CIFOR.

It is estimated that mangrove deforestation generates as much as 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation globally, despite accounting for just 0.7 percent of tropical forest area, Murdiyarso said.

“Combined with low-oxygenated, water-logged soils, mangrove ecosystems have the potential to offset emissions that cause global warming,” he said.

Murdiyarso heads up SWAMP, a collaborative project that includes the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Oregon State University and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) designed to deliver wetlands data for use in developing programs for the sustainable management of wetlands in the tropics.

“The conference gave us a chance to demonstrate the use of our protocol, which allows us to assess carbon stocks and its dynamics on both intact and degraded mangrove ecosystems,” Murdiyarso said.

For further information on the topics discussed in this article, please contact Daniel Murdiyarso at d.murdiyarso@cgiar.org