It was a similar story in Senegal’s Saloum Delta. Here, salt flats had developed within the mangrove, but by cutting channels, water was able to flow in to restore normal salinity levels while also bringing in seeds that germinated and helped the forest to regrow.

In Southeast Asia, Wetlands International is working along the heavily eroded northern coast of Java in Indonesia. Before they stared replanting, large fish ponds were breached to allow sediment to flow again. A series of barriers were then built just off the coast, made from twigs and branches, to take some of the power out of the waves while at the same time allowing sediment through to help the mangroves reestablish. “It’s understanding the wider context that makes this approach work,” de Boer says.

But de Boer cautions that while CBEMR has been shown to work, success can be short-lived if there’s no community buy-in. “You can restore an area, but if it’s in someone’s backyard, they’ll dig it up again as soon as you plant it,” he says.

A bamboo fence protects a young, replanted mangrove forest from the tempestuous sea. Image from Shutterstock via IUCN.

Mikoko Pamjoa (“Mangroves Together”) is  a community-led restoration project along Gazi Bay, on Kenya’s south coast. Established in 2014, it’s one of the world’s longest-running such projects, and has now become the first to use mangrove carbon credits to protect its blue forests.

Mohammed Bomani, Mikoko Pamjoa treasurer, says fishing is crucial to everyone who lives around the bay, and that seafood is their only source of protein. “Mangrove forests provide the best environment for fish breeding,” he says.

In 2014, deforestation spiked along Gazi Bay and the mangrove lost around 2% of its tree cover, according to satellite data from the University of Maryland. Bomani says he and his colleagues began the restoration project because they realized they were the only ones who could save their mangroves.

People were quick to buy into the project, Bomani says, which has created more than 150 jobs. An influx of money from carbon credits, managed by international carbon credit regulator Plan Vivo, has helped the community make changes in “some important areas in their daily life,” he says. These include improvements to the local water supply, the renovation of primary schools, and the stocking of the local medical dispensary.

Around 2.5 million trees are protected through Mikoko Pamjoa along with a second program it inspired called Vanga Blue Forest. The project’s secretary, Harith Suleiman, says that with climate change causing more extreme weather events, not having the protection of the mangroves meant the village was at constant risk of flooding.

Like many villagers, Suleiman comes from a fishing family, inheriting his knowledge of where to fish and his respect for the mangroves from his ancestors.

“The mangrove contributes to the ecosystem balance,” he says. “Where there is mangrove there is seagrass, there is coral and a biodiversity of marine life.”

But, he says, “People have over-exploited the resource,” and cut down large areas to build houses. To combat this, they are encouraging more young people to join in the restoration work. To date, Suleiman says, more than 750,000 seedlings have been planted. “This is their resource,” he says. “Nobody from outside will come and protect this; they are the ones.” Satellite imagery from Planet Labs shows mangrove cover has expanded in the past several years.

Satellite imagery shows what appears to be mangrove regrowth near Gazi, Kenya.

Last year, the Save Our Mangroves Now! alliance, which brings together the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), WWF and the IUCN, issued a new report called “Tangled Roots and Changing Tides.”

The report looked into the legal and institutional frameworks governing mangroves, and the complications caused by the fact that mangroves cut across different ecosystems, sectors and governments.

According to Diego Jara, legal officer at the IUCN’s Environmental Law Centre, because of their position at the intersection of the land and the sea, more often than not, mangroves are subject to a fragmented legal framework where it’s rarely clear whose jurisdiction they come under.

“Many countries don’t have a specific approach on how to protect these ecosystems,” he says. “Sometimes there are laws that contradict each other … or sometimes governments simply don’t have the capacity to monitor what’s going on and ensure that these vulnerable ecosystems are protected.”

Jara says he believes enacting legislation aimed at specifically protecting mangroves isn’t necessarily the solution; what’s more important, he says, is clarifying how existing legislation applies to mangroves.

An army of soldier crabs (Mictyris longicarpus) marches through a forest of aerial roots of the mangrove Avicennia marina, feeding on detritus and microorganisms. They spend the majority of their time buried in the sand, appearing at low tides to form roaming groups. Image by Matthew Nitschke/University of Queensland via Wikimedia Commons (CC 4.0)

The report also highlighted the fact that mangroves don’t respect national boundaries, and its authors call for more region-specific approaches along with the creation of protected areas or corridors.

Jara says he agrees that community involvement is at the heart of successful restoration. “It is important that local communities can learn how to sustainably exploit these resources and that they can also learn how to protect it in the long run,” he says.

What he doesn’t want to see, he says, are traditional subsistence activities, such as cutting mangroves for firewood, becoming illegal overnight. “The protection has to be aligned with livelihoods of local people,” he says.

Jara says education is key to protecting mangroves, and the IUCN is also hoping to promote local mangrove conservation by training community leaders.

“The recognition of mangroves in the law alone is not sufficient,” Jara says, adding that a lack of will and a lack of resources can make the law toothless. Instead, he says, through “education at all levels, particularly the local level, you can ensure that mangroves are used sustainably.”


Banner image: Planted mangrove seedlings. Image by Irwandi Wancaleu via Wikimedia Commons (CC 4.0)

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Article published by Morgan Erickson-Davis
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