Mangroves Crucial for Sustaining Livelihoods and Reducing Disaster Vulnerability

Mangroves for the Future was launched in September 2005 for the long-term conservation and sustainable management of coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, coral reefs, wetlands, forests, lagoons, estuaries, beaches and sandy shores. It covers twelve tsunami-affected countries in South and Southeast Asia and the Western Indian Ocean, and involves collaboration among government agencies, NGOs, research institutes and universities, UN agencies, and other multilateral bodies.

The common goal is to conserve and restore ecosystems, sustain human livelihoods, and increase resilience and reduce the vulnerability of coastal communities in the Indian Ocean Region.

Global mangrove coverage is estimated to be between 167,000 and 181,000 square kilometers. They are among the most rare and threatened ecosystems. Coral reefs cover nearly twice the area of mangroves, and tropical and subtropical forests more than 125 times as much. More than a third of the world’s mangrove forest has disappeared in the last two decades alone. The annual rate of loss is on the order of 6,000 square kilometers.

Mangrove and other ecosystem restoration has remained a largely-ignored aspect in the reconstruction efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The enormous contribution that ecosystems make in safeguarding coastal production and consumption, reducing vulnerability, and strengthening resilience remains under-appreciated.

Restoring mangroves can be very difficult, and there have been many recorded failures. Already many post-tsunami planting efforts are encountering problems, with high mortality of seedlings.

Restoration should be attempted only in suitable areas. Depth, duration, and frequency of tidal flooding must be studied before restoration starts, as this dictates what varieties of species can be planted. It’s important to understand what initially damaged the mangrove; if the stress (for instance, shrimp farming) is still present, restoration may be useless. Monocultures will not provide the full ecosystem services of a natural mangrove community; therefore, a mix of species is needed.

IUCN—The World Conservation Union, “Mangroves for the Future: Reducing Vulnerability and Sustaining Livelihoods,” Coastal Ecosystems, Issue No. 1, July 2006.