In the lead up to International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem on 26 July, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is running a series of stories on mangroves, and their impact on the environment and economies of countries across the world.
Twenty years later, people are still talking about Cyclone Eline in Xai-Xai, Mozambique.
The 2000 storm—the longest-lived cyclone on record in the Indian Ocean—hammered the local Mahielene community, which sits in the estuary of the Limpopo River about 225 kilometres north of Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. Eline wiped out fields, homes and nearly 60 per cent of the mangroves that surrounded the Limpopo River estuary.
Suddenly, residents, who used these saltwater trees and bushes for wood and ate or sold the fish living among their roots, were without their livelihood. Nor could they rely on mangroves to filter pollutants from water and protect shorelines from more flooding and coastal erosion.
As a response to this environmental and socio-economic crisis, the community, the Mozambican government and partners launched an effort to restore the trees so essential to life in the Limpopo River estuary.
There are now around 120 hectares of thriving mangrove trees. But despite these impressive results, there’s still a long way to go. Four hundred hectares of mangroves still need to be restored to reach pre-Cyclone Eline cover, which is why the National Agency for Environmental Quality Control, Eduardo Mondlane University, and other partners are undertaking a project to restore mangroves and support the Mahielene community.
“Planting and cultivating seedlings—the traditional mangrove restoration model—is often expensive, slow, and prone to failure,” said Jared Bosire, Project Manager with the United Nations Environment Programme’s Regional Seas Programme. There are just too many things that can go wrong, he noted. The sediment level could change, the water’s salinity could be too high, or the elevation may not be suitable for the seedlings.
That’s why this project will combine traditional planting techniques with a unique hydrological method that lets nature to do its work. Flooding after Cyclone Eline had caused sediments to shift and bury the roots of many mangroves. With the help of the community, the project proponents will dig channels in the estuary to allow seawater to flow in towards the mangroves, which will feed the existing trees and allow their own seedlings to thrive. “Essentially, we’ll be letting nature do its job,” said Celia Macamo of Eduardo Mondlane University. “We want to create the original, natural conditions to help the mangroves restore themselves.”
Their restoration efforts will be supported by the Guidelines on Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration in the Western Indian Ocean Region, a new publication from the Nairobi Convention and partners that provides a step-by-step guide on how to build successful restoration projects and avoid common replanting pitfalls.
The project aims to revitalize 20 hectares of mangroves. Officials will also help the local community of Mahielene design and approve a local mangrove management plan. It will outline a planting scheme, rules regulations for cutting mangroves, and penalties for offenders who break those rules. The management plan is expected to serve as a model for the restoration of the remaining 400 hectares in Mahielene and other degraded mangrove sites in the wider Western Indian Ocean region. The project will also help Mozambique achieve its targets under Sustainable Development Goal 14.2 under which the country committed to protect marine and coastal ecosystems.
The Mahielene community has already seen the advantages of past mangrove restoration efforts, benefits that this project could help solidify. Fish, crabs, mollusks, and shrimp are flourishing around the community’s mangroves, meaning that the local fish market—as well as the transportation businesses moving people and fish to and from Xai-Xai market—have increased their activities. Mangroves are also providing a buffer against natural disasters, acting as barriers against storm waves and flooding, preventing erosion, and sequestrating carbon.
The project is helping to lure people back to Xai-Xai. “Historically, a lot of men in this area migrated to South Africa for work,” noted Jacinta Laisonne of the National Agency for Environmental Quality Control. “But now, because of the renewed livelihood opportunities, some are staying and others are returning to Xai-Xai.”
The initiative is funded by the Global Environment Facility through the Implementation of the Strategic Action Programme for the Protection of the Western Indian Ocean from Land-Based Sources and Activities, executed by the Nairobi Convention.
This project aims at reducing land-based stresses on this environment by protecting critical habitats, improving water quality and managing river flows. The ccConvention, part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Regional Seas programme, serves as a platform for governments, civil society and the private sector to work together for the sustainable management and use of the Western Indian Ocean’s marine and coastal environment.
Nature-based solutions offer the best way to achieve human well-being, tackle climate change and protect our living planet. Yet nature is in crisis, as we are losing species at a rate 1,000 times greater than at any other time in recorded human history and one million species face extinction. In addition to important moments for decision makers, including the COP 15 on Biodiversity, the 2020 “super year” is a major opportunity to bring nature back from the brink. The future of humanity depends on action now.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners such as the Africa Restoration 100 initiative, the Global Landscapes Forum and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Help us shape the Decade.