Why conservation of mangrove ecosystem is a big deal and the role you could play

Chara mangrove forest in Tana Delta. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

It is highly likely that the term “ecosystem” lacks its equivalent in a majority of local languages.

Defined as a structural and functional unit of ecology where the living organisms interact with each other and the surrounding environment - this could simply be visualized as forests that clean the air we breathe and give us wood and medicinal plants, soil and cropland where we grow our food, grazing fields where we graze our livestock, wetlands that provide us with fish and building materials and filter our water while cushioning our coastlines from strong waves, and the habitats that harbour our wildlife.

This could be summed up as nature. In essence, we are part of nature and have no choice but conserve it for our own survival.

The common adage that “We inhale for life, but Trees exhale for us”, nicely captures how man is inextricably linked with, and is part of nature.

It is for this reason that the United Nations General Assembly declared 2021-2030 the UN decade for Ecosystem Restoration. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a global effort aimed at restoring the planet and ensuring One Health for people and nature.

The Decade unites the world behind a common goal: preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of ecosystems worldwide. Restoration of the ecosystem is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, mainly those on climate change, poverty eradication, food security, water and biodiversity conservation.

Forests, grasslands, croplands, wetlands, savannahs, and other terrestrial ecosystems are in dire need of some level of protection and restoration aimed at restoring ecological integrity to enable the provision of the much-needed ecosystem services that not only sustain livelihoods but power economies.

For instance, restoring coastal and marine ecosystems helps protect and bring back some of the richest biodiversity hotspots on Earth. These ecosystems also provide storm protection, fisheries and carbon storage.

It is in keeping with the above that in 2015 The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared 26th July as the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem.

This day aims to promote the conservation and sustainable growth of mangrove forests. Mangroves are salt tolerant trees and shrubs that grow in the inter-tidal regions of the tropical and sub-tropical coastlines, thriving in areas where freshwater mixes with seawater. Mangrove forests are of significant ecological importance.

The tangled roots of the mangrove forest act as a nursery for many organisms, protecting them from predators, strong heat, and forceful tides. Apart from supporting rich biodiversity, coastal forests remove five times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than terrestrial forests.

Over the last 40 years, the area covered by mangrove forests has almost halved. The bulk of threats to mangroves is human-induced, which entail overexploitation, conversion and encroachment of mangrove habitats for agricultural and settlement purposes, infrastructure development, aquaculture, a decline in freshwater and silt deposition and heavy metal pollution.

Climate change-related challenges also threaten mangroves including global warming, sea level rise and extreme weather events.

There are several ways you could be part of the solution, as the world marks the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem. For example:

  • Report, to relevant authorities, cases of illegal activities such as poaching of mangrove posts
  • Take an interest and widely read to understand more about mangroves, threats, and their conservation and protection.
  • Actively engage in restoration of degraded mangrove sites by planting seedlings/propagules
  • Be a champion by engaging in advocacy to lobby for the protection and conservation of mangrove forests
  • Take photos of degraded and well-conserved mangrove forests and widely share them via your network
  • Adopt proper waste management to avoid polluting rivers
  • Mobilize the community where you stay and undertake clean-ups
  • Practice better farming methods to minimize siltation

The writer Rudolf Makhanuis the Director of Eden’s Stewards.