Call to step up mangrove conservation efforts

Dr Theresa Mundita S Lim
Executive Director, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity

The world’s most productive and intricate web of life can be found in mangroves, which provide critical breeding habitats for about 75 per cent of fish species caught in the oceans. Apart from supporting the world’s food systems, mangroves are the planet’s protectors against the catastrophic consequences of climate change. They can store carbon 10 times as much as the terrestrial ecosystems and the specialised root systems make them natural buffer zones in coastal areas. They minimise the impacts of strong ocean waves and winds, and help reduce erosion and siltation that impact livelihoods of coastal communities.

The ASEAN region is fortunate to be hosting 42 per cent of mangrove forests in the world, according to the most recent ASEAN Environment Report. But in the last four decades, the ASEAN has seen the rapid decline of this precious resource. From an estimated regional total mangrove area of 63,850 square kilometres in 1980, it has declined by 33 per cent in a span of 40 years to 42,914 square kilometres in 2020, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization Global Forest Resources Assessment.

As the world celebrates the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem today, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) reminds the public of the critical importance of mangroves and highlights the value of addressing the drivers that contribute to their loss and destruction.

It is also vital to recognise the variety of species of real mangroves in ASEAN. Out of the 70 known mangrove species in the world, 36 to 47 species can be found in the region. This diversity coincides with the diversity of ecosystem services that this unique plant community can provide. It is crucial, therefore, to protect the remaining mangrove forests that we have, and consider different kinds of mangrove trees that grow from our seafronts and towards our rivers and the land.

The ACB actively supports the ASEAN member states in doubling actions on the ground and facilitating cooperation to attain the region’s shared objectives in mangrove restoration and conservation. Recognising mangroves as part of the region’s coastal and marine resources that are essential to the ASEAN people, the leaders of the ASEAN have expressly stressed the region’s special focus on the conservation and sustainable management of these ecosystems as reflected in the Blueprint of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community 2025.

We have seen gains from transformative actions done in previous years. Thailand has minimised the loss of its mangroves comprising about 36 per cent of its coastlines, as well as that of its coral reefs and wetlands, due to grassroot efforts of the government and the private sectors. According to its 6th national report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the government has engaged local communities and other organisations in building bamboo fences as a measure against coastal erosion, and the designation of marine and coastal conservation areas, where surveillance monitoring for the encroachment of mangrove forest and exploitation of coastal resources has been intensified.

Conservation actions also need to be sustained with a long-term vision and carried out with vigilance. The Philippines, for example, has crafted a master plan for climate-resilient forestry development for the period 2015-2028. This plan integrates rehabilitation and maintenance of degraded mangrove forests and watersheds into the overall strategy of the government to address ecosystem resilience. This also ensures the alignment and sustainability of national programmes and initiatives.

Awareness-raising activities and livelihood support are also important tools in mangroves conservation programmes. The ACB and the German Development Bank (KfW) through the Small Grants Programme have recently signed a grant agreement with Myanmar Environment Rehabilitation-conservation Network (MERN) for a project that will help restore mangroves and create livelihood opportunities in Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary, a designated ASEAN Heritage Park (AHP) in Myanmar. Among the project’s objectives are to raise awareness and build capacities of local communities for mangrove conservation and improve the state of the mangroves within the AHP through restoration activities like planting critically endangered species.

Part of the solutions to our modern-day concerns like food security, climate change, and public health are in the conservation of mangrove forests. Taking into consideration their ecological and economic values, it is our duty to keep these ecosystems healthy and intact.

Mangroves of Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary, a designated ASEAN Heritage Park. PHOTO: ACB