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New research: Tackling the climate emergency through locally led mangrove conservation

Groundbreaking new research recently published in Ecosystems helps to shed light on the fate of the carbon stored in mangrove soils following deforestation, emphasising the importance of conservation in the face of the climate emergency. 

In the context of the climate emergency, mangroves are critical ecosystems to coastal communities across the tropics. Often the only barrier between villages and the open ocean, mangroves help protect people’s houses and businesses from the increasing number of tropical storms resulting from our changing climate. Due to their capacity to adapt to rising sea levels, mangroves also help to protect coastal villages from flooding. Furthermore, they are a vital habitat for many of the small scale fisheries that are the foundation of coastal livelihoods and food security across the tropics.  

Over the last two decades, the substantial capacity of mangroves to capture and store carbon has been increasingly acknowledged. Studies conducted in Madagascar and across the tropics have shown that mangroves can sequester and store up to five times more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. This makes them one of the most effective nature-based climate change mitigation solutions available.

Photo: Leah Glass

What is the fate of this stored carbon if mangroves are deforested?

As is common across the West Indian Ocean, in Tsimipaika Bay, northwest Madagascar, mangroves are being harvested for charcoal production at an alarming rate, with an area equivalent to almost 800 football pitches being cleared annually in recent years. This is having a devastating impact on the fisheries upon which so many people depend. 

Blue Ventures is supporting community groups in the region to develop and implement sustainable mangrove management plans in order to reverse this trend. Effective locally led management costs money, so we have been exploring the viability of climate finance as a funding mechanism for this management, and the broader economic resilience of the region in the face of a rapidly changing climate. This approach has already been successfully trialled by communities in southwest Madagascar. 

Zoning demarcation at Tahiry Honko, the world’s largest mangrove carbon conservation project led by communities in southwest Madagascar | Photo: Leah Glass

In order to be able to access climate finance, communities need to quantify the carbon impact of their conservation; how much CO2 emissions will locally led conservation prevent? In order to answer this, we need to know how much CO2 is emitted when mangroves are deforested. The fate of the carbon in the trees and roots is well established in scientific publications. However, over 75% of mangroves’ vast carbon stocks are stored in their muddy soils. The impact of deforestation on this carbon is less well known, particularly where mangroves are harvested for charcoal production. Given that such a high percentage of mangroves’ carbon stores reside in the soil, this lack of understanding is a major barrier to communities realising the full potential of climate finance.

To help address this paucity of data, together with the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Edith Cowan University in Australia amongst others, Blue Ventures conducted novel research which has recently been published in the journal Ecosystems. Together with our collaborators, we compared the characteristics of soils from mangroves that were deforested 10 years ago to those of healthy mangroves. 

Our results show that:

    • Every year, one hectare of healthy mangroves in Tsimipaika Bay can capture and store in their soil the same amount of CO2 that is emitted by an average passenger car travelling 16,000 miles.
    • Conversely, mangrove deforestation leads to the loss of 20% of the carbon stored in the top 1m of soil over 10 years. This equates to over 450,000 passenger car miles – that’s 18 times around the world – or 2.5 tanker trucks’ worth of petrol.   
    • The annual rate of carbon loss from deforested soils is 4.5 times faster than the rate of carbon uptake in healthy mangrove soils. This means that to counterbalance the carbon loss over the initial 10 year period, 4.5 hectares of mangroves need to be replanted for every hectare deforested. And establishing high rates of carbon uptake through restoration of mangroves can take decades. 
    • Thus, over timeframes relevant to the climate emergency, it is far better to conserve mangroves and keep the carbon in the ground rather than relying on restoration.
Credit: Irene Sanchez | Blue Ventures

In highly degraded mangrove ecosystems, restoration is without doubt incredibly important, both from a climate and coastal resilience perspective. However, this research shows that soil carbon loss through deforestation will take substantially longer to restore with mangrove reforestation of degraded and deforested areas. Highlighting the importance of pragmatic, locally led conservation ahead of reactive restoration efforts.

Community led management will lead to the protection of Tsimipaika Bay mangroves plus increases in carbon sequestration and storage through conservation and restoration activities. By putting numbers on these increases, this research enables communities in Tsimipaika Bay to maximise their revenue from climate finance projects. 

This is complex science, but by establishing the carbon losses and gains from mangrove management in a context that is relevant across the West Indian Ocean, and in many other parts of the world, other mangrove carbon initiatives can use our results to improve project revenues for coastal communities and support effective climate policy decisions.


Download the full paper

Learn more about Blue Ventures’ Blue Forests approach

Watch our film ‘Tahiry Honko – a community led mangrove carbon project’


This work was generously funded by the GEF Blue Forests Project. Blue Ventures would like to thank our co-authors, without whom this important research would not have been possible. In particular, Ariane Arias-Oritz, Pere Masque and Cath Lovelock. 


 

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Senegal

Fishing and the collection of shellfish is central to the lives of most coastal dwellers in Senegal, and seafood is part of almost every meal in Senegal. Massive overfishing by both industrial and artisanal fleets, as well as an increasing export of fish meal for aquaculture, is threatening a way of life and food security in the country, as fish stocks dwindle.

The work of Blue Ventures in Senegal is focused mainly in the southern Casamance region of the country, home to hundreds of thousands of hectares of fish-rich mangroves. We have teamed with Kawawana, Senegal’s oldest LMMA, to help protect the 15,000 hectares of mangroves under its community management, and to help monitor and manage the rich fisheries and oyster collection in the mangroves. We are also working with other communities to put in place community-based fisheries management systems, focusing particularly on the oyster and shellfish collection that is a primary economic activity for many women in Casamance.

Guinea-Bissau

The West African country of Guinea-Bissau is home to the unique Bijagos archipelago, a network of some ninety mangrove-fringed offshore islands and extensive mudflats supporting large amounts of migratory bird species, as well as megafauna such as manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles. The Bijagos people continue to live a very traditional lifestyle, where the collection of marine invertebrates plays an important role in food security and cultural traditions. The country is also home to extensive mangrove-fringed river systems that support rich fisheries.

Blue Ventures is working with Tiniguena, one of the oldest conservation groups in Guinea-Bissau, in supporting the first community-led MPA in the country, UROK, in the Bijagos islands. Together with Tiniguena, we are also supporting the establishment of new community-led conservation initiatives in the Rio Grande de Buba, a vast mangrove ecosystem with a long history of community-led fisheries management. Our focus is on data-driven community-led management of fisheries, which are of enormous importance to coastal communities, in particular women.

Thailand

Thailand’s small-scale fisheries are the cornerstone of social, economic and nutritional health for the communities living along the majority of the country’s nearly 3,000 kilometre coastline.

In the southernmost Trang province we are supporting communities reliant on nearshore fisheries − in particular for crab, shrimp and squid − in partnership with the Save Andaman Network (SAN). The region is renowned for its vibrant seagrass meadows and vast mangrove forests, which provide essential ecosystem services to coastal communities.  We’re providing training and tools to aid community- led fisheries monitoring and ecosystem management, and building community-owned social enterprises that fund and sustain local conservation efforts.

Timor-Leste

Since 2016, our work in Timor-Leste has evolved into a dynamic movement supporting community-led marine management and coastal livelihood diversification in Asia’s newest country. From our origins on Atauro Island, considered to harbour the most diverse coral reefs on earth, we’re now working with numerous communities on the island and the mainland to help improve management of critical coral reefs and seagrass ecosystems.

We’re helping communities reinvigorate traditional community governance practices − known as Tara Bandu − to support marine conservation, in particular through the use of temporary and permanent fishing closures, and community-led monitoring of marine ecosystems and fisheries.

We’re helping communities come together to exchange their experiences of conservation across their shared coastline, building a new movement of local support for systems change in the management and conservation of Timor-Leste’s coastal waters.

Alongside our community conservation efforts, we have also pioneered Timor-Leste’s first homestay association, which has provided income from visiting ecotourists on Atauro Island.

Our team in Timor-Leste’s capital Dili works closely with government, civil society organisations and NGO partners.

Tanzania

Like its neighbours within the Northern Mozambique Channel marine biodiversity hotspot, Tanzania harbours some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the Indian Ocean. These habitats are facing unprecedented challenges from overfishing and climate change.

Our Tanzanian team has worked with communities and local organisations to support locally-led marine conservation since 2016. Our work has expanded from Zanzibar to mainland regions of Tanga, Lindi and Kilwa where our technicians work with local partners to help communities strengthen co-management systems, working through beach management units (BMUs), Shehia Fishing Committees (SFCs), marine parks and Collaborative Fisheries Management Areas (CFMAs).

Our partners Mwambao Coastal Community Network and Sea Sense have spearheaded a remarkable acceleration in the uptake of community-based fisheries management and conservation in recent years, notably through the use of short term fisheries closures to catalyse broader community conservation.

In Kilwa we are working with Songosongo BMU to manage octopus closures and marketing, with the district authorities and NYAMANJISOPJA CFMA to help BMUs strengthen financial management capacity, and with Kilwa BMU Network to revive and expand the network.

Following the conclusion of the SWIOFish project in 2021, we are working with partners on a follow-up initiative to support the establishment and functioning of a fisheries co-management forum. The forum will facilitate engagement between national and local government authorities and NGOs involved in fisheries co-management initiatives along the Tanzania mainland coast, with the aim of enhancing networking and strengthening management and governance.

Somalia

With one of Africa’s longest coastlines, Somalia’s diverse marine environment supports enormously productive coastal and offshore fisheries.  Decades of conflict have undermined the country’s capacity for fisheries management, with many foreign industrial vessels fishing with impunity, and little regard for the critical importance of Somalia’s coastal fisheries for local livelihoods and food security.

A period of relative political and social stability unprecedented in recent decades is now presenting new opportunities to address past challenges, and to realise the considerable opportunities that well-managed coastal fisheries and conservation can offer Somalia. We are forging partnerships with community organisations in Somalia to build their capacity and skills to help coastal communities manage their fisheries for food security, livelihoods and conservation.

Philippines

The Philippines forms part of the ‘coral triangle’ epicentre of global marine biodiversity, with unparalleled diversity of marine species.  Over half of the country’s 107 million people live in rural areas, and approximately three quarters depend on agriculture or fisheries as their primary source of livelihoods.

Through our partnership with People and the Sea, we are supporting communities in the eastern Visayas to set up and utilise participatory data systems to monitor and understand the status of their fisheries, in a way that is meaningful for them. Through provision of access to strong data systems and training in data collection this year, these communities will soon have access to real time fisheries data and visualisations that will enable them to make informed decisions around the management of their fisheries.

Indonesia

Indonesia comprises almost 17,500 islands stretching across three time zones. This archipelagic nation has the 2nd longest coastline in the world − and the largest coastal fisheries resource − of any country on Earth. More than ninety per cent of Indonesia’s seafood production comes from small-scale fisheries, which are underpinned by the planet’s most biodiverse marine ecosystem, known as the Coral Triangle.

We have supported community-led marine conservation in Indonesia since 2016. Our team works in close partnership with 17 Indonesian organisations supporting community-based approaches to coral reef and mangrove conservation across 74 communities in fourteen provinces. Our support across these communities is customised to each context − the local fisheries, community stakeholders, seafood supply chains, legal frameworks and customary traditions governing fisheries management and conservation.

Since 2019 we have brought these partners together within a peer learning network of Indonesian organisations specialised in supporting community-based marine conservation. The network is based on the shared values of the organisations, including a commitment to promote the rights of traditional fishing communities in conservation. Thirty-two of the villages represented in this group are enacting local marine management through customary management regimes and traditions. This group, largely comprising sites in Eastern Indonesia, provides an important opportunity to share learning in traditional marine and fisheries management practices.

In Sumatra and Kalimantan we are strengthening our work in community conservation of globally important mangrove forests. We are supporting and strengthening community-forest management and supporting local partners who are adapting our catalytic model for temporary fishery closures to mangrove-dependent fisheries like mud crab.

We are working closely with our local partners Forkani, Yayasan LINI, Yapeka, Yayasan Planet Indonesia, Foneb, Komanangi, JARI, Ecosystem Impact, Yayasan Tananua Flores, Yayasan Baileo Maluku, AKAR, Japesda, Yayasan Citra Mandiri Mentawai, Yayasan Mitra Insani and Yayasan Hutan Biru, Yayasan Pesisir Lestari and Lembaga Partisipasi Pembangunan Masyarakat (LPPM) Ambon

India

We continue to work in India with our long term partner the Dakshin Foundation. We are collaborating in three distinct locations; the archipelago of Lakshadweep, coastal regions of Odisha and the Andaman Islands. 

Overfishing has led to a reduction in fish catches, challenging the future of many traditional fishing communities.

Our partnership is working to build the capacity of communities to manage coastal fisheries,  and improve the health of fishing communities, for the long-term wellbeing of both the communities and their fishing grounds.

Kenya

Kenya’s coast supports an extraordinary diversity of tropical marine and coastal habitats.  These  waters are threatened by a proliferation of destructive fishing practices and over-harvesting within the artisanal and commercial fishing sectors.

Our approach in Kenya focuses on strengthening Beach Management Units (BMUs) to improve fisheries management.  Since 2016 our Mombasa-based technical team has provided support, mentoring and assistance to local partners including Coastal and Marine Resource Development (COMRED), the Lamu Marine Conservation Trust (LAMCOT), and Bahari Hai.

These partnerships have seen notable achievements in community-led fisheries management and conservation, including training and mentoring BMU leaders in eighteen communities in Kwale and Lamu Counties.

Comoros

The Comoros islands are located in the northern Mozambique Channel, a region home to the world’s second highest marine biodiversity after the Coral Triangle. This globally important biodiversity underpins coastal livelihoods and food security, but is at risk from climate change and overexploitation of inshore fisheries.

We have maintained a permanent presence supporting locally led marine conservation and fisheries management in Comoros since 2015, providing support to local partners, governmental institutions and communities.

On Anjouan, the second largest and most densely populated island in the Comoros archipelago, we work closely with national NGO Dahari. Our partnership has developed a replicable blueprint for community-based marine management, which has seen the creation of the country’s first locally managed marine areas − including temporary and permanent marine closures − designed to safeguard the coral reef ecosystems underpinning the archipelago’s coastal economy.

This approach, which is expanding rapidly across the Comoros, is also demonstrating the importance of inclusive conservation in empowering women − through local women’s fisheries associations − to play a leading role in fisheries monitoring and decision making.

Belize

Belize’s marine environment encompasses some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea, including vast coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds. We have maintained a permanent presence in Belize since 2010, supporting diverse fisheries and conservation efforts.

We work in close partnership with the Belize Fisheries Department, MPA managers, fishing cooperatives and fishers’ associations, and championed the establishment of a national scale domestic fishery targeting the invasive lionfish.  We are actively promoting community led fisheries management, building on the success of our pioneering work with management of invasive lionfish.

We’ve led a decade-long MPA monitoring and evaluation programme in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, and provide regular training in coral reef monitoring methods to MPA authorities across Belize, including helping establish management targets for Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, Belize’s largest MPA.

Our team supports and strengthens  fishing associations that advocate for the rights of their communities to be involved in decision making around access and use of coastal fisheries and to be key members of MPA management groups. Across the country we are working to ensure that fishers interests are mainstreamed in the design and implementation of marine conservation and fisheries management, improving the effectiveness of co-management of coral reef, mangrove and seagrass areas.

Mozambique

Our Mozambican team has worked with communities to develop locally led approaches to fisheries management and marine conservation since 2015. This build on the success of the Our Sea Our Life project, when in 2015 and 2016 we ran a series of exchange visits to Madagascar to support temporary closure development in Cabo Delgado. First in Quiwia and then in the Quirimbas Archipelago, these helped encourage the development of local management approaches in Mozambique.

Today our approach is focused on supporting and strengthening local organisations and Community Fisheries Councils (CCPs) to better understand their local fisheries, make informed management decisions to rebuild fisheries, and assess the impact of management actions.  This work is developed in close collaboration with our partners Oikos- Cooperação e Desenvolvimento in Nampula province and Love the Ocean in Inhambane province.

Ongoing security challenges have afflicted coastal communities and emerging marine conservation efforts in several areas of Cabo Delgado, where our work is regrettably now on hold.

As in Madagascar, given extremely high levels of coastal poverty and a pervasive lack of access to basic services, alongside our work in conservation we facilitate partnerships with specialist health providers, through an integrated health-environment approach.

Madagascar

Blue Ventures’ journey began in Madagascar in 2003, and we’ve been supporting communities in marine conservation across the country ever since. We have five regional field programmes along Madagascar’s west coast, as well as regional offices in the towns of Ambanja, Mahajanga, Morondava and Toliara. Our national headquarters is located in the capital Antananarivo.

Across all these sites we support communities with the establishment of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs), and work with government partners to secure national recognition for community conservation initiatives. First developed in Madagascar by Blue Ventures in 2006, the LMMA concept has since been replicated by communities at hundreds of sites over thousands of kilometres of coastline, now covering almost one fifth of Madagascar’s inshore seabed. Our research in Madagascar has demonstrated globally important evidence of the benefits of LMMAs to fisheries and conservation.

Our work focuses on strengthening community institutions in marine management and governance, and pioneering new approaches to catalyse community engagement in ocean conservation. These innovations have included establishing community led ecological monitoring and the country’s first mangrove blue carbon project.

At the national level, we partner with the LMMA network MIHARI, which brings together 25 partner conservation organisations supporting 219 LMMA sites across the country. Our policy team is also actively involved in advocating for more robust legislation to safeguard the rights and interests of fishing communities, and to remove destructive industrial fishing from coastal waters. In 2022 we supported the launch of Fitsinjo, an industrial fisheries watchdog organisation. The network highlights industrial fishing and IUU activities in Madagascar and the broader Western Indian Ocean region.

Given the lack of basic services in remote coastal regions in Madagascar, we also help communities access basic healthcare through training and supporting women to serve as community health workers. We do not replace government health systems, but work to strengthen existing structures in close collaboration with government health actors and specialist NGOs. We also incubate Madagascar’s national health-environment network, which brings together 40 partner organisations to address the health needs of communities living in areas of conservation importance across the country.