Mangroves offer hope amid concerning outlook from IPCC oceans and crysophere report

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Mangrove conservation and restoration will play a crucial role in averting the growing threat from rising sea levels that could imperil hundreds of millions of people before the end of this century.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, launched yesterday, warns of the threat posed by rising sea levels and the risk to some 600 million living across coastal regions, as well growing ocean acidification, threats to coral and fisheries, and the likelihood of melting permafrost, releasing huge amounts of carbon emissions, compounding global warming.

Mangroves are crucial in climate action

Investment in the restoration and protection of coastal wetlands, such as mangroves, kelp forests, sea grasses and salt marshes, offer some hope amid the concerned outlook. According to the report, restoration of vegetated coastal ecosystems could provide climate change mitigation  through increased carbon uptake and storage of 0.5% of current global emissions – as well as providing crucial adaptation support. Storm protection, improved water quality, habitats for fisheries and coastal defence are just some of the benefits listed.

Mangroves forests play a multi-faceted role in tackling climate change – from sequestering carbon in their soils and branches to holding the fabric of coastlines together in the face of rising tides. They provide more than $80 billion per year in avoided losses from coastal flooding and protect 18 million people. They also contribute nearly $40–50 billion per year in benefits for fisheries, forestry, and recreation.

Combined, these benefits from mangrove preservation and restoration are up to 10 times the costs. But, coastal infrastructure development, large scale agriculture and aquaculture are all threatening these valuable ecosystems as mangroves still struggle to be properly valued.

Mangrove conservation and restoration was also on the agenda at the United Nations Climate Action Summit last weekend (20-23 September) as world leaders gathered in New York to strengthen their commitments and pledge concrete actions to tackle climate emergency.

GCA calls for global mangrove protection

The Ban Ki Moon-backed Global Commission on Adaptation, which launched a number of ‘action tracks’ at the summit, earlier this month highlighted global mangrove protection as one of five modes for society to adapt. It found that investing $1.8 trillion globally in early warning systems, infrastructure, dryland agriculture, mangrove protection, and the resilience of water resources between 2020 and 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits for society.

NGOs, such as Wetlands International, are urging leaders to recognise the multiple values of these ecosystems and invest in their conservation and restoration — not through planting schemes — but through ‘ecological restoration practice’.

The Global Commission on Adaptation report also identified the Global Mangrove Alliance – of which Wetlands International is a co-founder – as one of the global mechanisms to help advance mangrove conservation and restoration. The Global Mangrove Alliance aims to increase global mangrove habitat by 20 percent by 2030 through scaling up successful pilots, community education, knowledge sharing and increased investment to support remote sensing, coastal defence and blue carbon schemes.

Ecological Restoration Practice is key to success

While interest in mangroves is flourishing, it is vital that world leaders understand that good restoration practice is key to making this nature-based solution a success.

Recent studies in the Philippines and Sri Lanka show that less than 20% of restoration projects are successful. Restoration targets often lack quality requirements, and many projects have been planting unsuitable species in unsuitable locations, in the wrong time of the year — without making sure the biophysical and socio-economic conditions to enable mangrove recovery are in place.

Wetlands International has been testing restoration methodologies in location such as Guinea Bissau and Indonesia to create the conditions that encourage mangroves to naturally regenerate. This method is not only more effective, but it is also much cheaper.