Deforestation on land is recognized across the world as harmful, resulting in uninhabitable tracts of land bereft of the life forms that support human survival. From the Amazon to the Congo, governments, communities, and other stakeholders have accordingly undertaken tremendous efforts to restore terrestrial forests by 2030.
Yet deforestation of mangroves, trees that thrive in salty water, is just as devastating to our survival as the loss of forests on land and has become a rapidly escalating problem worldwide, including on the African continent. By 2008, Africa had lost about 510 000 hectares of mangrove area.
Mangroves serve as nurseries for the many fish species, crabs, shrimps, and mollusk species which form an essential source of food for thousands of coastal communities around the world. Studies have shown that mangrove forests capture four times more carbon than rain forests can, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Mangroves have provided continuously crucial ecosystem services supporting the livelihoods for over 60 million people living in the WIO. They provide wood products, coastal protection from natural disasters such as ocean floods, conservation of biological diversity, spawning grounds and nutrients for a variety of fish and shellfish, and salt production. The mangrove areas support rich biodiversity for migratory birds, feeding and breeding sea turtles and remnant populations of dugong, and as nursery areas for marine animals (especially shrimps).
Over 1 million hectares of mangroves dot the 15,000 km coast of the WIO region. These forests, which represent some 5% of global mangrove coverage, occupy sheltered riverine shorelines, deltas, creeks, bays and estuaries. The best developed mangrove forests across the WIO are found in the deltas of River Rufiji (Tanzania), Tana River (Kenya), Zambezi and Limpopo rivers (Mozambique) and along the west coast of Madagascar at Mahajanga, Nosy be and Hahavavy. ,
Governments of the WIO region have realized that the mangrove degradation and the loss of their associated goods and services undermines people’s well-being and have decided to take action. Some successful initiatives that have led to restoration of previously degraded mangrove forests, for example in Kenya and Tanzania, are already promoting income-generating activities such as ecotourism, bird watching, beekeeping, and mangrove canoe tours.
Demonstration projects on mangrove restoration
Other initiatives underway in the region include demonstration projects under the Nairobi Convention’s WIOSAP project. Funded by the Global Environment Facility, WIOSAP strives to reduce land-based stresses by supporting the protection of critical habitats, improvement of water quality, and management of river flows. To restore several important habitats, WIOSAP has funded several demonstration projects in WIO countries to promote the restoration of mangroves. Of importance to note is that restoration of mangroves ecosystems automatically results in improvement of conditions for other ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses and the fish, crabs, shrimps and mollusks species.
One demonstration project in the Boeny region of Madagascar will aim to promote inclusive, sustainable management of the mangrove forest that includes training, awareness-raising, and adoption of best governance practices. Outcomes would include the establishment of: a) a system of governance for the mangrove forests; b) alternative livelihoods for local communities; and c) an updated database and monitoring and evaluation system.
In Mozambique, a demonstration project aims to restore 20 hectares of mangroves and assist the local community to design and approve a local mangrove management plan that will outline a planting scheme, rules and regulations for cutting mangroves, and penalties for offenders. The management plan, together with lessons learned from this distinctive restoration method, can be used to catalyze future efforts to restore the remaining 380 hectares in Mahielene or at other degraded mangrove sites, either in Mozambique or the wider Western Indian Ocean region.
In Tanzania, a demonstration project will develop harvesting and restoration models for selected sites in the delta that will outline permissible harvesting, cutting and rotation cycles. In other words, communities will agree when and where certain areas of the mangrove forest can be cut in order to ensure that the harvesting is sustainable. The models will also create and test approaches for mangrove restoration for areas that have already been harvested or impacted, which will help the residents of the delta enjoy the benefits brought by mangroves into the future.
Mangrove Restoration Guidelines
The WIOSAP project has also published the WIO Guideline on Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration, to be used in the demonstration projects and elsewhere. The guideline provides step-by-step procedures to restore mangrove areas impacted by both human and natural stressors. It features cost-effective and environmentally-friendly ways to support the return of lost mangrove goods and services for sustainable development along the coastal region.
While there already exist several guidelines for mangrove restoration based on activities in other regions around the world, they haven’t always been applicable to the unique conditions in the WIO. This new WIOSAP publication is the first to provide tailor-made guidelines relevant to local conditions and experiences of the WIO.
Development of this guideline has involved country consultations, expert knowledge, and comprehensive review of literature on past- and ongoing mangrove restoration efforts to understand what works and what does not for the region. From the onset, the content has been tried and tested in the field by engaging the local communities and subjected to expert reviews prior to the production of the final edition.
The health of our mangroves has direct effects on the health of marine life and other critical habitats, namely seagrass and coral reefs. For this reason, the WIOSAP project is also releasing a Seagrass Ecosystem Restoration Guideline and is supporting two demonstration projects on seagrass in Mozambique and Mauritius and two projects on coral reefs and seabird habitats, also in Mauritius. The Nairobi Convention hopes that the outcomes of the demonstration projects, when coupled with the use of its restoration guidelines, will result in compounded benefits for the habitats and community livelihood and lessons that can be shared across the entire WIO region.