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My Mangroves, My Livelihood

The International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2015 and celebrated each year on 26 July, aims to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems as “a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem" and to promote solutions for their sustainable management, conservation and uses. 

Mangrove forests are essential and productive ecosystems that provide numerous goods and services to the marine environment and local communities. 

Mangroves are trees or shrubs that are found in the intertidal zone of coastlines, or that area between the coastal environment and the terrestrial environment. These plants are well-adapted to living in salty and brackish environments, which is one of the reasons that they are so unique. 

Fiji has over 45,000 hectares of mangroves which is approximately 4% of Fiji’s forest cover as detected by the Ministry of Forestry in 2019.

Mangrove trees are equipped with impressive filtration systems that allow them to filter out salt altogether. Perhaps their most notable feature, mangroves have complex root systems that extend above and below the water line. 

These roots allow mangroves to stabilize themselves and prevent erosion to the coastline, and also provide habitat, nurseries, and feeding grounds for a vast array of fish and other organisms. 

Yet mangroves are disappearing three to five times faster than overall global forest losses, with serious ecological and socio-economic impacts.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, globally mangrove area is estimated at 14.8 million hectares; Asia has the largest area (5.55 million ha), followed by Africa, North and Central America, South America, and Oceania.

Mangrove areas in some Pacific Island countries are high relative to their land area, such as 12% of the Federated States of Micronesia, and 10% of Papua New Guinea and Palau. 

Mangroves are critical ecosystems for promoting and supporting biodiversity. The unique role of the mangrove forest as the interface between coastal and terrestrial ecosystems enables it to provide a wide array of habitats and thus support a huge diversity of species, including terrestrial, estuarine, and marine organisms.

Uses of mangroves

Mangroves contribute significantly to the human wellbeing of the coastal communities that they adjoin. First, mangroves help to provide food security for local communities.

Mangroves serve as nurseries for many fish and other marine species, without which many fisheries, including local coastal fisheries as well as commercial coastal and offshore fisheries, would not survive. 

In addition to their contribution to food security, mangroves also contribute significantly to local livelihoods, providing employment for a significant coastal population across the globe via the fisheries and tourism that they support. 

Mangroves also provide valuable timber for firewood and construction in local communities. Mangrove forests also provide water purification services and aid in the detoxification of wastes. Importantly, mangroves also provide significant buffering against coastal erosion, storm surge, and sea level rise. 

It is estimated that mangroves help to reduce wave heights by 31%, protecting homes, property, and infrastructure from dangerous flooding. 

Mangrove forests serve a critical role in climate regulation and climate change mitigation. The trees/shrubs themselves, as well as the soil beneath them, serve as highly effective carbon sinks and storage sites. 

Mangroves absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and are able to store this carbon, often referred to as “blue carbon,” for extended periods of time, in the plant structure and in the soil beneath them. Blue carbon, the carbon that is captured and stored in coastal ecosystems, can be locked away in the soils beneath mangroves for hundreds to thousands of years, if left undisturbed.

Threats to mangrove ecosystems

Mangroves are disappearing at an alarming rate with serious ecological and socio-economic impacts. 

In the latest report by the Global Mangrove Alliance, an estimated 67% of mangroves have been lost or degraded, and an additional 1% is lost each year putting mangroves at the risk of being destroyed completely. 

More people are living along coasts than ever before and consequently pollution runoff has risen, threatening nearby mangroves which act as natural filters of runoff to the ocean. Pollution may come from sources like urban runoff, agriculture and oil spills and can interfere with the exchange between mangrove roots and the atmosphere and soil. Oil can, for example, suffocate mangroves by coating their roots. 

Mangroves are also indirectly affected by the agriculture industry, affected by the chemicals and fertilizers used on plantations that runoff into the environment. Another threat to remaining mangrove forests is coastal development. As coastal populations continue to grow and coastal tourism increases, mangroves are cleared to make way for infrastructure, businesses, hotels, and homes. 

Development in the coastal zone leads to mangrove destruction. Coastal development can be sustainable when it is well-planned, innovative, and integrates the surrounding ecosystems, livelihoods, and needs of all stakeholders.

Partnerships for the sustainable management of mangroves

In recognition of the importance of Mangroves, the Fijian Government through its various agencies has included mangrove planting, protection and conservation as part of their deliverables.

Specifically, the planting of mangroves is included in Fiji’s 30 million trees in 15 years tree-planting programme that is coordinated by the Ministry of Forestry. The Ministry has so far recorded the planting of 421,244 mangroves since January 2019. The Ministry has further invested in software and drone technology to help map key biodiversity areas including mangroves. 

Government is also developing blue-carbon projects of which mangroves will feature prominently.

The partnership among Government, the private sector, civil society organisations, members of the community, academia, and development partners are an important inclusive platform for Fiji’s socio-economic development and the sustainable management of natural resources, including the protection and enhancement of mangroves.

The next time you visit the beach, take your time to observe our mangrove forest and you will be surprised at the many services it provides: from preventing coastal erosion to providing food, fibre and medicine.

Let’s give back to nature. Take a stand, together we can protect, conserve, restore and sustainably manage our mangroves.

Source: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Ministry of Forestry

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