It is World Mangrove Day today, the annual review of conservation of the high-value but threatened tree species. Mangrove is a ecosystem heavyweight, owing to its notable contribution to environmental conservation and the improvement of livelihoods among marine communities.
Mangrove forests account for 0.4 per cent of the global forest cover. For decades, they have been a source of livelihood for coastal residents. But every year, one per cent of mangroves are lost, mostly to human practices like overfishing, land use changes, coastal development and agriculture. UNEP blames a quarter of the loss on farming on the coastline.
Since 1985, Kenya has suffered a 70 per cent decline of mangrove in the coastal region, mostly due to overharvesting of their resources to meet increasing human needs, hence the increased vulnerability of residents to effects of climate change.
Besides their incredible adaptation to an environment considered unfit for trees, mangrove forests are critical for protecting coastlines, endangered and threatened species and people’s livelihoods and even helping to combat climate change effects.
Mangrove forests are a direct essential connection between life in the ocean and on land. Millions in the tropics and subtropics depend on them for wood, medicine, livestock feeds, honey and others.
Mangrove ecosystems perform protective functions by absorbing strong waves and winds from the ocean and regulating estuarine coastal water quality through sedimentation and nutrient uptake and carbon sequestration. Trees absorb huge amounts of carbon, hence reducing their greenhouse effects. Mangroves are among the most carbon-rich forests in the tropics and subtropics.
Mangrove forests can store 10 times more carbon than other terrestrial ecosystems, making their delimitation by conservation actors a priority.
The fishing industry is dependent on mangrove. The intricate root systems of mangroves provide the perfect habitat for aquatic life, proving optimal breeding grounds for different fish species. Directly or indirectly, 80 per cent of the global fish catch is, in some way, dependent on mangrove forests.
With increasing climate change vulnerability, coastlines are susceptible to competing livelihoods activities. Two undeniable symptoms of climate change are rising sea levels and increasingly extreme storm surges. Mangroves are a natural protection against the potential devastation, acting as a barrier against rising tides and storm surge, their dense and plentiful roots holding the soil in place to prevent erosion and degradation of the coastline.
Mangrove forests are under global pressure. Habitant destruction and degradation persist despite recognition of their important ecological function. But their ecological benefits have motivated communities to take up the reforestation, setting up huge mangrove nurseries which they replant to the degraded sites and take care to ensure survival.
This is a call to conservationists to refocus their energies and resources more to combating climate change through sustained mangrove reforestation.
Mr Nyamu, a Young African Leaders Initiative alumni (Cohort 24), is manager, sand conservation, utilisation and compliance, at Makueni Sand Authority. [email protected].