Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Coastal carbon included in White House plan

In the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan, just released by the White House, carbon capture and storage is included as one of the important services coastal ecosystems provide. 

"The health and integrity of coastal habitats - such as coral reefs, wetlands, mangroves, salt marshes and sea grass beds - are key to sustaining our Nation’s valuable coastal and ocean ecosystems and the wealth of benefits they provide to us. ... they capture and store carbon..."

To view the Plan go here:

Monday, March 18, 2013

‘Blue Carbon’ project in the UAE

‘Blue Carbon’ project continues to boost ecosystem health

March 18, 2013, The Gulf Today

ABU DHABI: The Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), supported by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), last year launched a pioneering “Blue Carbon” project that connects local coastal and marine ecosystem health with climate change mitigation.  

Early results of the assessments indicate Abu Dhabi’s mangroves have more value at their old age than the newly-planted ones.

Blue Carbon coastal ecosystems include mangrove forests, sea-grass meadows and saltwater marshlands. These ecosystems continuously sequester (isolate) carbon from the atmosphere, sometimes at rates higher than tropical forests, thereby helping to mitigate climate change. 

The project draws together an international team of experts to investigate the critical role Abu Dhabi’s coastal and marine ecosystems play in fighting climate change.

As reported in January this year, the project assesses carbon sequestration and other services Abu Dhabi’s Blue Carbon ecosystems provide. The project is gaining an understanding of their geographic extent and assesses possible frameworks for the development of mitigation initiatives in Abu Dhabi.

In January, a team of international experts from GRID-Arendal, World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) and a team of coastal carbon scientists as well as EAD, AGEDI and local volunteers undertook field surveys to determine the extent, quality and baseline quantification of carbon stocks and sequestration potential of mangrove, salt marsh and sabkha coastal ecosystems.

Sites surveyed extended across the Emirate from Ghantoot in the East to Bu Tinah Island in the West. This fieldwork provided the essential data for current analysis assessing the total stock of carbon fixed by these ecosystems in Abu Dhabi.

During the fieldwork, a ground-truthing application, currently under development for this project was tested, its aim being the strengthening of information on Blue Carbon ecosystems’ distribution in the Emirate.

Another essential component of the fieldwork was the integration of EAD personnel and local volunteers from Zayed University, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and the Higher Colleges for Technology, Takatof as well as the Abu Dhabi community with global experts in these coastal ecosystems, to develop local capacity for the continuation of Blue Carbon assessments in the future.

This international involvement is an example of how, through the knowledge and experiences gained from this project, Abu Dhabi aims to provide global leadership in understanding and incentivising linkages between coastal management and climate change around the world, as countries move towards greening their economies. 

During the upcoming months, local stakeholders will be engaged to further explore how Blue Carbon and other ecosystem services can be integrated into policy and market frameworks in Abu Dhabi.

Salt marsh restoration could bring carbon benefits

Salt marshes that have been previously turned into farmland could be restored and their ability to absorb carbon  from the atmosphere resume (

Salt marsh restoration could bring carbon benefits

March 18, 2013 by Tom Marshall

Allowing farmland that's been reclaimed from the sea to flood and turn back into salt marsh could make it absorb lots of carbon from the atmosphere, a new study suggests, though the transformation will take many years to complete.

Scientists looked at one of the oldest such places in the UK, Tollesbury in Essex. Originally a salt marsh, the site was claimed for farming in the late 18th century, but eventually relinquished in 1995 when the bank separating it from the sea was deliberately breached. Since then it's been reverting to its natural state, though this is very slow process.

'People want quick results, but these things take time,' says lead author Annette Burden, a wetland biogeochemist based at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Bangor. 'You can't expect a piece of land that's been farmed for a century to turn overnight into something like a saltmarsh that has been there for thousands of years. But the evidence is that this will eventually happen, and this study suggests that the land starts absorbing carbon very quickly after its flood defences are breached.'

In 2010 the researchers looked at how carbon moves between soil and air at the site, and at the total amount of carbon accumulated in the soil. They compared the results to nearby natural saltmarsh and farmland.

Their results show that the Tollesbury site exchanges carbon with the atmosphere at a similar rate to the natural marsh, absorbing around 0.92 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year. But even after 15 years its total carbon content is far smaller and its general biological functioning is still very different – the authors think it could take a century or more to catch up.

Known as coastal managed realignment, the process of turning farmland back into salt marsh involves breaching sea walls and letting the land revert naturally to how it once was. It's done for a variety of reasons. At present the main one is to comply with the EU Habitats Directive, which obliges the UK to replace salt marsh that's lost to development with new 'biologically equivalent' habitat elsewhere.

But managed realignment offers many other benefits. It can improve biodiversity, since salt marsh hosts many rare and valuable plant and animal species. It can help protect coastlines from flooding by creating a buffer zone between the sea and infrastructure or homes. It can let government bodies save cash on maintaining costly flood defences. And now this study, published in Coastal and Estuarine Science, suggests another possible benefit – absorbing copious carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it up in the soil. This could help limit the impact of our carbon emissions on the climate.

Similar initiatives are afoot around peat bogs, another enormous store of carbon in the UK landscape. Scientists and conservationists are experimenting with blocking drains and other measures aimed at restoring peatlands that were drained in a misguided twentieth-century effort at turning them into farmland.

This is where Burden's background lies. 'I wanted to take what we've learned about peat bogs and apply it to salt marsh,' she says. 'Peatland has had much more attention from scientists, but people are thinking that salt marsh could be just as important as a store of soil carbon.'

She thinks it's possible that per hectare of land, restoring salt marshes could even be more valuable from a carbon-management perspective than restoring peatlands. Re-wetting a peat bog initially makes it emit methane, itself a greenhouse gas; recreating salt marshes has no such drawbacks. But there is much more peatland that could be restored in Britain than salt marsh, so their overall effect is potentially more significant.

Other studies, some of which we've covered on Planet Earth Online (see links to the right) have shown that it takes a very long time for the mix of plants found in a natural salt marsh to return to a deliberately recreated one. The same seems to be true of the soil's carbon content.

She's now carrying out further research looking at a range of sites that stopped being farmed at different times due to breaches in sea defences during storms, some as long as 100 years ago, to get a better sense of how they develop over time. 'The Essex coast is brilliant for this kind of work, because you have so many places that were returned to saltmarsh at different times - it's like a natural experiment,' she says.

Provided by PlanetEarth Online search and more info website.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Blue carbon in the UAE

Blue carbon acts as mitigator of climate change

Mangrove tree process will limit atmospheric rises in temperature, experts say

By Nada AlTaher, Staff Reporter, Published: 19:45 March 17, 2013

View from the Eastern Mangroves hotel apartments on the eastern ring road in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi: The Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI) and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) launched a Blue Carbon project, which aims to study the correlation between the storage of carbon in ground beneath mangrove trees, seagrass meadows and saltwater marshlands in relation to climate change.

“Blue carbon is a fairly new term in the world of environmental assessments. Unlike other greens, they store carbon beneath the ground they live on, not just in their own bodies,” said Edwin Grandcourt, Manager, Marine Assessment and Conservation Section, EAD’s Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector.

In January a team of international experts introduced the study’s methodology to start the measurments. This practice is unique in the Arab world and is only being conducted in Madagascar and Indonesia at the moment, according to experts.

“These coastal ecosystems continuously isolate carbon from the atmosphere sometimes at a rate that is faster than tropical rainforests. This helps mitigate climate change by trapping greenhouse gases, which are normally the cause of temperature rises in the atmosphere,” he added.

In an attempt to study this process further, scientists will study areas extending across the emirate of Abu Dhabi from its Eastern Ghantoot region to Bu Tinah Island in the west. The registry of measurements will conclude in May this year.

“This is a guidance project aimed to increase the quality of spatial data because of the application currently being developed. It will also help lead the way for other projects aiming to further the studies we made,” said Ebrahim Bugla, Head of the Marine Assessment and Monitoring Unit at EAD.

After the project ends in October, available results will be given to decision-makers in order to produce policies for the betterment of coastal ecosystems in the emirate.

To the untrained eye, they may look like any other plant in the region. However, hidden in the sediment beneath these mangrove trees lies a mitigator of climate change, a source of nutrition for creatures below the soil and a possible source of fossil fuels thousands of years from now.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Indonesia's Mangrove Ambassadors Programme

School children in Indonesia learn about are fighting climate change through mangrove conservation - - - 

Indonesia’s future generation pledges tourism leaders to fight climate change

Theodore Koumelis - 13 March 2013 - traveldailynews

School children are the main protagonists of the Mangrove Ambassadors Programme, one of the central elements of the project “Sustainable Tourism through Energy Efficiency with Adaptation and Mitigation Measures in Pangandaran" (STREAM).

School kids from Pangandaran, Indonesia, have urged global tourism leaders to take climate change seriously. The 451 participants of the Mangrove Ambassadors Programme voiced out through a selection of 24 “Letters to Leaders” how climate change is affecting their daily lives at one of the most popular tourism destinations in Indonesia. The Ambassadors Programme is part of a joint project by UNWTO and the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, supported by  the Government of Germany, to promote climate change mitigation and adaptation measures (6 March, Berlin, Germany).

School children are the main protagonists of the Mangrove Ambassadors Programme, one of the central elements of the project “Sustainable Tourism through Energy Efficiency with Adaptation and Mitigation Measures in Pangandaran" (STREAM). Their handwritten letters explaining how they are impacted by climate change were delivered by the Indonesian Vice-Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, Sapta Nirwandar, to UNWTO during the presentation of the STREAM project at ITB Berlin. The initiative aims to stress the importance of engaging local communities in the implementation of any sustainable tourism project.

“We hope that our global leaders can do something against climate change”, said Tiara Citra Dewi, a 14- year-old student, in her letter.

“Our children are asking us to take strong action against climate change. We thank UNWTO for listening to the voices of the next generation of Indonesia, and we look forward to continue this collaboration and engage in new initiatives” said Sapta Nirwandar.

UNWTO underscored the grassroots approach of the project. “STREAM is a practical example of how the tourism sector can engage local communities to be part of a sustainable solution in adapting to climate change”, said UNWTO Executive Director for Competitiveness, External Relations and Partnerships, Márcio Favilla during the event.

The Mangrove Ambassadors Programme involves school children in planting and monitoring mangroves as an innovative way to promote a local and long-term sustainable solution to climate change adaptation. Through the Programme, Indonesia’s future generations become not only an active part of the fight against climate change in their communities but also the voice of this movement amongst the older generations.

Other initiatives of the STREAM project include seminars and workshops to increase the knowledge of local tourism stakeholders on climate change response, capacity building on energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies and energy management systems for hoteliers, as well the rehabilitation of mangroves and coral reefs by locals and tourists as a means to naturally capture and store carbon emissions.  

The STREAM project, with an investment of US$ 1.7 million, aims to significantly increase the climate change resilience of Pangandaran and the competiveness of its tourism sector, thereby serving as a model to be adopted and replicated in other destinations in Indonesia and South-East Asia.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Not-So-Mysterious Loss of Salt Marshes and Ecosystem Services

Healthy salt marsh creeks at Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts, are lined with lush, smooth cordgrass. The plant’s below-ground roots and above-ground leaves build and maintain salt marshes. Credit: David S. Johnson

Mosquitos by the droves. Polluted coastal waters. Increased storm surge vulnerability. Loss of habitat for crabs, shellfish and vast numbers of beautiful bird species including sparrows and rails [1]. These are just some of the potential consequences of loss of salt marshes around the country, many of which are now listed as “habitats of concern.”[2]

Salt marshes are among the most ecologically productive and diverse ecosystems in the United States. They provide important services such as floodwater storage and storm protection for coastal cities such as New Orleans. Healthy marshes also serve essential roles in carbon sequestration, a service of primary concern at current emission rates of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, nutrient removal and water purification.

However, global climate change and sea level rise, agricultural and industrial development and loss of sediment supply are contributing to dramatic rates of wetland loss worldwide. In the Gulf Coast region, these and other factors – many still largely under-studied – are driving salt marsh loss at unprecedented rates. While salt marches are famously valued for their function in nutrient removal, improving water quality by filtering runoff and removing sediment, nutrients, pesticides, metals, and other pollutants [3], new research suggests that these marshes are not impervious to the damaging effects of natural and artificial nutrient accumulation.

In October 2012, seven researchers from various universities and laboratories across the country published a study in prestigious Nature magazine investigating the effects of coastal eutrophication, or the response of aquatic systems to the addition of natural and artificial nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates present in fertilizers and sewage, on salt marsh loss. Linda Deegan, Louisiana State University alumna and senior scientist in the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, headed a rigorous nine-year whole-ecosystem nutrient-enrichment experiment to investigate the effects of coastal eutrophication, assisted by David Samuel Johnson, R. Scott Warren, Bruce J. Peterson, Sergio Fagherazzi, Wilfred M. Wollheim and John W. Fleeger, professor emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University.

“We wanted to understand the impacts of increased nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus – also known as coastal eutrophication – on all aspects of saltmarshes, from plant production, to decomposition, to food webs that lead to fish and birds, to the long-term ability of marshes to keep up with sea-level rise,” Deegan said.

After eight years of nutrient enrichment, the edge of this salt marsh at Plum Island Estuary has fragmented and turf has slumped into the channel. Credit: Christopher Neill

In a nine-year whole-ecosystem experiment, Deegan and colleagues used a microcomputer to add controlled amounts of a solution of concentrated nitrogen and phosphorous to incoming tidal water in tidal creeks in Plum Island Estuary [4], allowing the water to flood the marsh the way enriched coastal waters would in real-world processes. The site of the study, a large marsh in northeastern Massachusetts, is otherwise generally untouched by nutrient pollution. The experiment involved adding nutrients to the twice-daily flooding tides for a total of nine years, from 2004 to 2012, during growing seasons, enriching about 30,000 square meters of marsh in several experimental creek systems. In this way, the researchers could definitively study the impacts of nutrient addition on salt marsh health.

“This experiment is unique in the world – and given some of the difficulties we encountered we have a better appreciation for why!” Deegan said. “For example, it can be challenging to keep electrical components and computers working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the growing season for 9 years in a salt water environment.”

Despite physical challenges, the whole-ecosystem experiment paid off in a big way, providing results not predicted by previous marsh models based on small plot experiments.
“Our biggest success is that we have found responses that simply would not be observed if we had added dried fertilizer to small sections of the marsh as is typically done. Our experiment allowed the interaction of many parts of the marsh resulting in an unexpected response – the creek banks fell apart.”

“In only five to seven years, the edge of the marsh is literally falling apart,” Fleeger said in an official university press release [5].

As Deegan explains, the breakdown in the creekbanks of the nutrient-enriched marsh happened in several stages. In the first few years of the experiment, the nutrients caused the marsh grass – primarily Spartina cordgrass (Spartina spp) [6] – along the creek edges to grow greener and taller, in a process similar to what happens when you add fertilizer to your garden. These taller Spartina cordgrasses, however, produce fewer of the roots and rhizomes that normally help stabilize the edge of the marsh creek. Added nutrients also boosted microbial decomposition of leaves, stems, and other biomass in the marsh peat, further destabilizing the creek banks.

“Eventually, the poorly rooted grass grew too tall and fell over, where the twice-daily tides tugged and pulled it,” Deegan said, “The weakened, decomposed peat in the creek bank then cracked and chunks of the creek bank fell into the creek.”

“When we first started this work, it was thought that salt marshes would be able to sequester excess nutrients and neutralize them with little impact on the marsh itself, but that hasn’t proven to be the case,” Fleeger said in the LSU press release [7]. “While they are in effect ‘grabbing’ the nutrients from the water, it is most definitely having an impact on the stability and function of the ecosystem.”

The results of the experiment have important consequences for marsh ecosystems worldwide. Salt marshes are a critical interface between the land and sea. They provide habitat for fish, birds, and shellfish, protect coastal cities from storms and absorb nutrients out of the water coming from upland areas, protecting coastal bays from over-pollution.
“If we lose our marshes, we will lose all these important ecosystem services,” Deegan said.
But where do these deleterious nitrogen and phosphorous nutrients come from in real-world processes that are now known to harm salt marches more than previously thought? The modern use of ammonium fertilizers and combustion of fossil fuels has created an accelerated global nitrogen, contributing to high nutrient levels in uplands that eventually affect coastal waters.

“These actions are a combination of agricultural runoff, waste water from cities and towns and atmospheric deposition,” Deegan said. “The proportion of the nutrient problem that is from these different sources can vary from location to location.  Here in New England, the most of the nutrients are from sewer and septic wastewater from cities and towns, while in other regions the biggest problem is agricultural runoff.”

Deegan suggests that agricultural practices use a combination of ‘tried and true’ as well as new approaches to control fertilizer runoff.  Strips of land in natural vegetation can be used as buffers between agricultural land and coastal areas to remove fertilizers and minimize runoff. We could also do a better job of targeting applied nutrients on an as-needed basis.

“We can also use new technology to be smarter about how much, when and how we apply fertilizer,” Deegan said. “A lot of fertilizer is ‘over applied’ to make sure that the agricultural crop has more nitrogen that it actually needs. That causes pollution problems and is expensive. Doing a better job of targeting the applied nutrients is a ‘win/win’.  We can do a better job of timing the application of fertilizer to when the plants need it by keeping close track of the plant growth. We also now have the ability to test soils for nitrogen content in real-time, and tractors that can be programed to apply the specific amount of fertilizer for a particular section of ground rather than just broadcast general average for the region. Putting all these old and new techniques in place could contribute to less fertilizer runoff.”

Linda Deegan sampling water in Plum Island saltmarsh. Credit: Christopher Neill

Deegan and colleagues have provided substantial evidence that salt marshes can’t take nutrient overload without harmful consequences for natural ecosystem services.  Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t end there. Deegan and colleagues suggest in their paper that simultaneous increases in nutrient loading and sea-level rise as a consequence of global warming could result in synergistic march loss, with higher wave energy and flow velocities associated with sea level rise combining with nutrient effects on creek-bank stability to accelerate land erosion.

“Now we understand that nutrient enrichment also causes a very important loss of salt marsh habitat for fish and shellfish,” Deegan said in a Woods Hole press release [8]. “This is one more reason why we need better treatment of household waste in our towns and cities.”
“We also recognize that marsh loss has many causes,” Fleeger said. “In some places, herbivores –consumers of algae or marsh grass – have increased, often because top predators are reduced in numbers, and have reduced the area of vegetated marsh as a result of overgrazing.  Other places have experienced marsh loss because the supply of sediment is reduced and marshes subside.”

Despite the many and complex factors contributing to marsh loss, Deegan provides some hope for marsh ecosystems if appropriate measures are taken.

“We feel certain that if we control the levels of nutrients in the water, given continued sediment availability, the marshes will rebuild using the same natural processes that built them in the first place,” Deegan said. “It may take a couple of decades, but we think they will recover.”


For a video interview with Dr. Linda Deegan about salt marsh loss, visit

For the original Woods Hole press release, visit

For the original Louisiana State University press release, visit

For the original Nature article, visit


About the Author: Paige Brown is a 1st year PhD student in Mass Communication at the Manship School, Louisiana State University. In her research, she focuses on science and environmental communications and message effectiveness. She also holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biological and Agricultural Engineering from Louisiana State University. Paige is the author of the popular science blog From The Lab Bench, hosted on Although a scientist by trade, she is a writer at heart. You can follow her on Twitter @FromTheLabBench and on Facebook. Follow on Twitter @FromTheLabBench.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Management and Conservation of Mangroves Workshop

Mangrove carbon sequestration highlighted in Mexican workshop titled 'Introduction to the Management and Conservation of Mangroves' - - - 

Sunset World Puts Together a Workshop on Mangrove Conservation

36% of the mangroves of Mexico have been changed or replaced. On the Yucatan’s Peninsula, the damage comes also from non-organized tourism and human settlements (Photo: PRWeb).

Cancun, Mexico (PRWEB) March 06, 2013

Thirty-six percent of Mexican mangroves have been changed or replaced, and the Yucatan’s Peninsula, home of 55% of them, also presents great damage on these coastal ecosystems, caused by non-organized tourism, over-exploitation of species and human settlements.

On the workshop titled “Introduction to the Management and Conservation of Mangroves” organized by the tourist group Sunset World Resorts & Vacation Experiences to commemorate World Wetlands Day, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) in Mexico, added that the state of Quintana Roo have the second place on mangrove territory with 16%, only behind Campeche.

This course, given jointly with another Mexican agency, the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (Conanp), was directed to students of the Environmental Engineering, Sustainable Tourism and Hotel Management degrees of Universidad del Caribe. One of the main points of the workshop was that mangroves are endangered not only in Mexico, but internationally by other factors like water pollution, coastal erosion, natural disasters and climate change.

“50% of the world’s wetlands have been changed, and a great part of the other 50% is deteriorated. Specifically in Mexico, around 64% of mangroves are still untouched, but we have changed or replaced 36% of them,” pointed out the biologist Teresa Jimenez, head of the Environmental Education department of Semarnat.

The tourist group, through it 2 branches, Hacienda Tres Ríos and Sunset Admiral Yatch Club, coordinated this course for 25 Unicaribe students to teach them about the characteristics and present condition of the wetlands as well as the causes and effects of the main environmental problems affecting them.

On this tenor, Semarnat emphasized that the growing of human settlements on the coastal zones, caused by the world’s tendency of living near the sea to perform activities like recreation and tourism, and the rising of sea level due to climate change “could irretrievably damage the coastal wetlands” causing a modification on species and cutting down its productivity.

On this workshop, we learned that wetlands cover about 4 to 9% of the world, and some of the benefits that they bring are: capturing an important amount of the atmosphere’s carbon, provide nutrients to the sea, act as a refuge and reproduction zone, their appeal for tourism and recreation, to serve as natural sewer treatment and to recharge the water tables.

Gabriel Santoyo, Sustainable Development Director of Tres Ríos, on his lecture showed the features that make this ecotourism complex an example of sustainability on an international level and the efforts to save the mangroves on the state.

The workshop was three days long. Two days of lectures on the Unicaribe’s classrooms, and one more of practice on the Sunset Admiral Yatch Club, where students and lecturers boarded a trimaran to visit some locations of Nichupte Lagoon.

On this trip we heard a lecture on the situation of the mangroves given by biologists Teresa Jiménez, head of Environmental Education, Pablo Rubio Taboada, technical assistant of the Protected Area of Nichupte Mangroves and Gabriel Santoyo, Sustainable Development Director of Tres Ríos. The students also enjoyed the marina facilities, a brunch and diploma for their assistance to this workshop.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Economic imperative for protecting mangrove ecosystems

Mangrove carbon sequestration highlighted in policy-brief based on the 2nd edition of the World Atlas of Mangroves (2010), including the advancing blue carbon polices - - - 
 Economic imperative for protecting mangrove ecosystems

27 February 2013 / Tarequl Islam Munna / The Financial Express

A partial view of the Sundarbans

Experts are urging policymakers to conserve mangrove forests and recognise their essential services to nature and humanity alike, saying that shrimp farms and development activities leading to their replacement will be a bad economic trade-off both in the short and longer terms.

Organisations from the forestry and conservation sector and those linked to the United Nations (UN) have released a policy-brief based on the 2nd edition of the World Atlas of Mangroves (2010). It aims to provide managers with lessons learned in the past mangrove conservation and management efforts along with policy recommendations.

Found mostly in the tropics straddling land and sea, mangroves account for less than half the one per cent forests of all kinds worldwide. Taken together, some 70 species of mangroves are found in 123 tropical and sub-tropical nations and territories but they occupy just 152,000 square km in total-an area slightly larger than Nepal.

Yet these so-called 'forests of the tide' provide enormous benefits to humanity, especially as essential harbours for biodiversity, as buffers against the destructive power of waves, and as nurseries for coastal and offshore fisheries worldwide.

Since 1980, the world has lost about one-fifth of mangrove forests and many of what remains is degraded, says the new policy brief 'Securing the Future of Mangroves.'

Conversion of mangroves for coastal aquaculture is the foremost driver of mangrove loss, the report says. An estimated 38 per cent of global mangrove loss can be attributed to the clearing of mangroves for shrimp culture, while another 14 per cent can be blamed on other forms of aquaculture.

Lead author Hanneke van Lavieren of the United Nations University says: "The benefits of this industry have too often been short-lived due to poor planning with ponds being abandoned when pollution or disease takes hold, leaving unproductive saline pools and depleted coastal fisheries."

"Such large-scale conversion has had major negative environmental impacts. In a region where fishing in and around mangroves is a critical activity providing food and income for millions of people, the socio-economic impacts of this conversion have been tremendous," adds Ms. Van Lavieren, Coastal Zones Programme Officer at UNU's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

"There is now a growing awareness about importance of mangroves and government and community-led efforts are under way to restore or replant mangroves and improve legal systems to regulate future use."

Losses are being driven by other human threats as well, however, including over-harvesting and deforestation, agricultural, urban and industrial runoff, oil spills and poorly-managed dredging and coastal development.

"These practices continue to take their toll and if left unchecked will cause significant economic and ecological decline," says Dr. Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist at The Nature Conservancy and co-author of the report.

"Rare and critically important mangrove forests continue to be lost at a rate three to five times higher than that for global forests. Set against this is a growing realisation of the social and economic value of mangroves and a remarkable array of restoration efforts in many countries around the world."

Climate change will exacerbate existing pressures, the authors add. About 5 to 20 per cent of coastal wetlands (including mangroves) will be lost owing to sea-level rise by 2080.

The most pronounced losses (over 20 per cent) have occurred in the Asian and Pacific regions, followed by Central America. Limited losses have occurred in East Africa, with only an 8 per cent decline between 1980 and 2005.

In some countries, the extent of loss has been much higher than the regional norm. For example, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that Pakistan, Honduras, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Vietnam, Sierra Leone and El Salvador each lost more than 40 per cent of their 1980 coverage by 2005.

In Australia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Suriname and French Guiana, the extent of loss has been kept to less than 1 per cent over the same period.

"The variation between the countries can be mostly attributed to national policies and legal protection," says co-author Zafar Adeel, director of UNU-INWEH.

Some of the benefits of mangrove forests are listed below:
  • Mangrove forests serve as highly effective carbon stores and sinks. Alongside living biomass, mangrove soils are carbon-rich, sequestering carbon over millennial timescales.
  • Near-shore fisheries amid mangroves are well documented and of much importance to many communities, but many large-scale fisheries, such as commercial offshore shrimp fisheries, are also highly dependent on mangroves as nursery or breeding ground.
  • Mangroves provide rot-resistant, high-value timber and excellent fuel wood, which has been harvested under sustainable silviculture programmes in some countries for over 120 years.
  • In many settings, mangroves act as a form of natural coastal defence, reducing erosion, attenuating waves and even reducing the height of storm surges. In the longer term, they can also help build or maintain elevation in the face of rising seas.

The report says economic valuations of mangrove ecosystem goods and services provide some of the most powerful arguments for effective mangrove management.

"A growing number of economic valuations are being conducted and most of them reveal considerable benefits, even from single services such as fisheries," says Dr. van Lavieren. "When the full suite of ecosystem services from mangroves can be assessed, the arguments for maintaining healthy mangrove forests are usually compelling." Specific examples of the economic value of healthy mangroves include prawns harvested in Australia across the wide shallow coastal shelf areas off both the Northern Territories and Queensland — one of the country's most valuable export fisheries, earning almost US $72 million annually.

One study cited in the policy brief shows that planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves in Vietnam cost just over US$ 1 million but it saved annual expenditures on dyke maintenance of well over US$ 7 million.

Meanwhile, the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve in Malaysia is cited as arguably the world's best example of a sustainably managed mangrove ecosystem. Established in 1902, it covers an area of about 500 square km, approximately 73 per cent of which is considered productive forests, while the rest is classified as non-productive or protected.

Only non-destructive forestry, fishing and aquaculture practices are permitted. Re-vegetation programmes are implemented two years after the final felling as required. Annual value of the forest products between 2000 and 2009 was estimated at roughly US$ 12.3 million, with cockle aquaculture adding an estimated annual value of US$ 10.7 million.

"This case provides evidence that mangrove forests can be conserved and enjoyed while still providing reliable long-term but reasonably high economic return for local and larger communities," according to Dr. Spalding. "It shows that when well-managed, mangroves can ensure sustainable yields of products."

The report notes that around Cancún, Mexico, "a mangrove-fringed lagoon was replaced in just a few decades by high-rise hotels and some of the most expensive real estates in the country. New coastal roads that were built to provide access to these hotels have cut off the natural hydrological connections between habitats."

"Without mangroves, coastal erosion is widespread and beaches are continuously being replenished artificially, a very expensive venture. There remains significant pressure from tourism developers and so far, national, regional, and local governments have failed to adequately regulate the fast-growing coastal tourism industry."

"It is clear that integrated and stringent management actions are needed to protect remaining mangroves." The report describes the instruments and measures readily available to help conserve and manage mangrove ecosystems and highlights lessons from around the world on successful measures for protecting mangroves.

And it offers recommendations to improve legal and policy frameworks, mangrove management tools, data and information collection, economic incentives to promote more environmentally-responsible behaviour and local livelihoods, recognition of the full value of mangrove ecosystem goods and services, including carbon stores and sinks, and coordinated global action under agreements related to biodiversity, wetlands, sustainable development and climate change.
Among the recommendations are some relating mangroves to climate change:
  • Better connecting of mangrove ecosystems with the role they play in the global carbon cycle and climate system could change the economic calculus for mangroves;
  • The role of mangroves in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction should be integrated in local and national adaptation plans;
  • The key-role of mangroves as carbon stores and sinks needs to be highlighted in national and international strategies that address climate change;
  • Enhancement of existing carbon stocks and reversal of CO2 emissions by increasing protection and restoration of mangrove ecosystems, and integration of mangroves with emission trading and climate change mitigation planning.

The World Atlas of Mangroves documents over 3,840 square km of restoration projects worldwide and "there are doubtless many more," notes Dr. Spalding, who was the lead author of the Atlas.

However, "reversing the trends of mangrove loss and of growing vulnerability of coastal peoples will require a real commitment by governments to develop and implement robust high-level policies," the report concludes.

These are underpinned by many successful examples of mangrove management from around the world, and by solid and convincing economic arguments. Trends of mangrove loss can be rapidly slowed with good management practices, laws and establishment of clear frameworks for mangrove ownership, use and management. Restoration has also been widely in place in many countries and it offers the possibility of reversing the patterns of loss and brings considerable benefits back to many coastal areas. This clear understanding of the management interventions is required to secure the mangroves' future. The policy can be applied to the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, in Bangladesh.

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