Mangroves are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Less attention is given to their protection compared to tropical rainforests and coral reefs, despite studies showing they experience higher rates of destruction1. This unique ecosystem of plants adapted to the extreme intertidal zone, plays an important role as a carbon sink through the continuous growth of its woody biomass and accumulation of organic sediment2. It also benefits biodiversity, maintains coastal livelihoods and provides coastline protection. These benefits become increasingly important in the context of our climate crisis, particularly in countries disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.
Africa hosts 19% of the planet’s mangroves, with the majority located in West-Central Africa: Gabon, Nigeria and Cameroon, to name a few3. The mangrove areas help to prevent coastal degradation, protect the local community from tropical storms, sustain water resources as well as provide agricultural and fishing opportunities. Regardless of these benefits, the national and regional policies in place do not include regulations and measures to prevent the exploitation of mangroves. Subsequently, there is uncontrolled land use change, exploitation, and degradation from human activities.
The past and present threats to mangroves are varied and interconnected. In Gabon for example, urbanisation is the main driver of mangrove deforestation. In other areas, the increase in shrimp farms, agriculture or exploitation by the timber and petroleum industries is more pressing. The unmanaged approach makes it possible for companies to exploit the ecosystem with little to no negative consequences yet results in devastating impacts to the local communities who rely on the ecosystem’s services. In Nigeria for example, 25% of the population depend on the mangrove ecosystem of the Niger River Delta4.
Alongside these immediate anthropogenic threats, the vulnerability of mangroves is also driven by climate change in the long-term. The health of the ecosystem is essential as this is the determining factor of the ecosystem’s ability to provide its ecological and hydrological services5. Any projects around restoration and protection must consider both the short-term and long-term impacts that are affecting mangroves. A community-centred approach is necessary for the success of the project and the enforcement of policies at the national level can guarantee long-lasting achievements. The aim is to view solutions through a lens of adapting to our climate crisis and at the same time mitigating climate change.
What are the steps to take moving forward? Reducing anthropogenic impacts is imperative. Buffer zones to reduce the degradation caused by pollution from nearby human activities, restoration and protection initiatives of already degraded areas or those experiencing rising threats, catchment management and establishing regional monitoring and regulations, are all measures that can improve the health of this vital ecosystem.
Onsite interventions in the past have included investment in the protection and restoration of mangroves. However, any financial investment in mangrove areas must first and foremost focus on the empowerment of the local community. Education and local participation is key. This enables sustainable management of the ecosystem so that the local people may enjoy the short-term benefits as well as secure their livelihoods into the future6.
Any measure must be holistic so that the negative impacts are not ‘leaked’ elsewhere in the coastline. For example, once an area becomes ‘protected’, the negative impacts that were originally affecting this part shift to another location. Understanding the mangrove ecosystem as one is key to achieve a holistic solution to their protection. Approaches that prevent the exploitation of the ecosystem in the first place likely result in long-term success, such as: provide renewable energy so that there is less demand on timber from the mangrove forests, reserve fast growing fuel-wood tree alternatives for timber use, involve the community who depend on the mangrove ecosystem in developing policies for mangrove conservation and protection.
As with all our projects, carbon finance can provide the finance to benefit the local community and their ecosystem. Other economic instruments include payments of ecological services or corporate and social responsibility of industry. These methods are not isolated but rather, interconnected. Bringing all these mechanisms together will ensure the protection of this vital ecosystem as well as the livelihood of the people who depend on it.
At CO2balance we are interested in developing Blue Carbon projects and being part of the solution so please feel free to keep up to date for any new developments in this area.
1Duke et al. (2007). ‘A World Without Mangroves?’. Science, 317(5834), pp.41-42.
2Ellison and Zouh (2012). ‘Vulnerability to Climate Change of Mangroves: Assessment from Cameroon, Central Africa’. Biology, 1(3), pp.617-638.
3Ajonina et al. (2018). ‘Current status and conservation of mangroves in Africa: An overview’. World Rainforest Movement Bulletin, 133.
4Martin and Burgess. ‘Central African Mangroves’. Accessible at: https://www.oneearth.org/ecoregions/central-african-mangroves/ [Accessed 28/06/2022].
5Feka and Ajonina (2011). ‘Drivers causing decline of mangrove in West-Central Africa: a review’. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management, 7(3), pp.217-230.
6Boateng (2018). ‘Assessment of Vulnerability and Adaptation of Coastal Mangroves of West Africa in the Face of Climate Change’. Threats to Mangrove Forests, pp.141-154.