Experts share critical lessons on saving mangroves

Mangroves are disappearing at an alarming rate, with conservationists across the Commonwealth striving to save them from local extinction.

These nearshore forests that straddle land and sea provide a range of vital services to both humans and fish, such as coastal protection.

In a webinar organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat to mark World Mangrove Day – the third in a Blue Charter series which was attended by more than 120 participants – scientists and policy experts discussed how to “unlock” the wealth of mangroves, by regenerating these extraordinary ecosystems.

Rare ecosystems

Hasanthi Dissanayake, Director of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Sri Lanka, set the scene: “Mangroves are rare ecosystems that support the rich biodiversity and provide a valuable nursery for fish and crustaceans. There is a range of livelihoods connected to mangroves, ranging from fisheries to tourism.

“They also act as form of natural coastal defence against tsunamis, rising sea levels, storm surges and erosion. Their soils are highly effective carbon sinks, sequestering vast amounts of carbon.”

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Despite their ecological and economic value, mangroves are perishing at least three to five times faster than overall global forests. Half of the world’s mangroves have already been lost over the last 50 years due to human activity such as coastal development and pollution.

Reversing this decline has not been easy and is one of the main focus areas of the Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement by 54 countries to act

ively work together to solve some of the world’s most pressing ocean issues.

Case studies, lessons learned

The webinar saw panellists share their experiences in preserving and regenerating mangroves around the world.

Rahanna Juman, Deputy Director at the Institute of Marine Affairs in Trinidad and Tobago cited a mangrove-replanting project in an area that had been cleared to construct a pipeline. To bring back the mangroves, her team first restored the natural topography and flow of water to the area, then replanted more than 260 seedlings.

However, very few survived in comparison to mangroves that naturally recolonised the area, once it was back to the original environmental conditions. Dr Juman advised: “Mangrove planting should be the last option”.

Achini Fernando, a specialist at Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority, showed how “rapid assessing techniques” can be used to map species diversity as well as vulnerability of mangroves.

She added that this leads to better decisions on eco-tourism plans in Sri Lanka, saying: “Scientific data forms the foundation for good management.”

Leah Glass, global lead on mangroves from Blue Ventures, explained how her organisation is working with the UK Government to empower coastal communities to manage mangroves in a way that also fights climate change.

This is done by placing a monetary value on the carbon stored by mangroves and selling these “carbon credits” to global buyers who want to make a positive impact on the environment. The returns are then used to fund community-led mangrove conservation, restoration and management.

Judith Okello, an ecologist from Kenya’s Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, echoed the importance of engaging local communities. In her research, local actors have been a key source of information to guide mangrove restoration work.

Collaboration

The Commonwealth Blue Charter lead at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Jeff Ardron, welcomed the insights shared by panellists, and encouraged countries, partner agencies, and all interested to further collaborate through the Blue Charter Action Group focused on mangroves.

He said: “The work Commonwealth Blue Charter is driven by 10 action groups, led or co-led by 13 champion countries. These action groups are valuable platforms to share experiences, strategies and best practices – both what works and what doesn’t – to make country actions more effective.”

Sri Lanka champions the Action Group on Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods.

The webinar was the third in a series focusing on challenges and solutions for more sustainable ocean management.

PAST EVENT: Unlocking the Wealth of Mangrove Ecosystems

Commonwealth countries hold more than a fifth of mangroves in the world. But they are rapidly disappearing – globally, between 30 to 50% of mangroves have been lost over the past 50 years. New approaches to restoration of mangroves are emerging, benefiting from new, low-cost technologies. These can support the resilience of local communities across the Commonwealth through empowered engagement and innovative funding.

This webinar will:

  • Provide an overview of the science and policy adopted by different nations to gather information required for better management of mangroves.
  • Showcase learning through case studies from projects across the Commonwealth representing different regions.
  • Highlight the various platforms available to move forward in a post COVID-19 world.

Panelists 

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The webinar is part of a wider series of virtual events that promote collaboration through the sharing of experiences, best practices and solutions on ocean issues. They also offer the opportunity to reflect on how to move forward with ocean management in a post-COVID-19 world.

For more information contact: [email protected]

World Oceans Day: Mapping the Commonwealth one coral reef at a time

Celebrating World Oceans Day 2020, on 8 June, the Commonwealth Secretariat kicked off with the first Commonwealth Blue Charter webinar in its new series.

With 45% of coral reefs in Commonwealth waters and more than 90% of reefs globally predicted to be lost to climate change, NOW is the time for action. This webinar highlighted the efforts member countries and Vulcan Inc. are undertaking to map and accelerate protection and restoration of these precious ecosystems.

The event was hosted by The Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, with a special address from Her Excellency Dr Farah Faizal, High Commissioner of Maldives to the UK. The event highlighted the actions and progress of three Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups:

Vulcan Inc. demonstrated the Allen Coral Atlas which is bringing together multiple datasets to develop a detailed global coral atlas. Countries can utilise this map to inform their policy decisions to protect and restore coral reefs.  Maps for Australia, Bahamas, Belize, Fiji, Jamaica, Kenya, Mozambique, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tonga and Tuvalu are available on the Commonwealth Innovation Hub.

During the webinar, a new short film produced by the Commonwealth Blue Charter highlighting the 10 Action Groups was premiered.

Over 200 people from 56 countries around the world participated in the webinar, which finished with a panel discussion including questions from the audience.

Panelists of the Blue Charter World Oceans Day webinar

The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC during the Blue Charter World Oceans Day webinar

The Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General, speaking during the webinar

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Post-COVID recovery should lock in ocean sustainability, says Commonwealth Secretary-General

The Commonwealth Secretary-General is urging governments to ensure their countries’ post-COVID economic recoveries are environmentally sustainable and safe for the ocean.

Forty-seven of the Commonwealth’s 54 member countries have a coastline while 25 are either small island developing states or ‘big ocean states’ relying heavily on the ocean for food and income.

Sustainable blue and green economies

On World Oceans Day (8 June), Secretary-General Patricia Scotland calls on countries to reform development strategies in a way that supports vibrant and sustainable blue and green economies.

She said: “The ocean is the life blood of so many Commonwealth countries and our environment should be the cornerstone as we put plans in place to recover our economies. The Commonwealth covers more than a third of coastal oceans in the world, contributing to a global ocean-based economy valued at US$3 to 6 trillion per year.

“COVID-19 impact has radically altered some of our key economic sectors and transformed the way we live, communicate and do business. While the fallout from the pandemic has had a huge impact on our blue economies, it also presents a crucial opportunity to strategise on how to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable economic practices built on climate resilience and ocean sustainability.

“The Commonwealth Blue Charter is one of the most effective platforms for global ocean action in the international landscape today. I commend the work of our member countries through the action groups and welcome the support we have received from national, regional and global partners, enabling us to mobilise together for ocean health.”

Blue Charter action groups

The Blue Charter is the Commonwealth’s commitment to work together to protect the ocean and meet global ocean commitments. Ten action groups, led by 13 champion countries, are driving the flagship initiative. More than 40 countries have signed up to one or more of these action groups, and counting.

Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups include:

  • Sustainable Aquaculture (led by Cyprus)
  • Sustainable Blue Economy (Kenya)
  • Coral Reef Protection and Restoration (Australia, Belize, Mauritius)
  • Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods (Sri Lanka)
  • Ocean Acidification (New Zealand)
  • Ocean and Climate Change (Fiji)
  • Ocean Observations (Canada)
  • Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (marine plastic pollution – United Kingdom, Vanuatu)
  • Marine Protected Areas (Seychelles)
  • Sustainable Coastal Fisheries (Kiribati)

Members of the private sector, academia and civil society – including Vulcan Inc, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Nekton Foundation and many others – are also engaged as Blue Charter partners.

Commonwealth Blue Charter – All Champions Meeting

Countries driving the Commonwealth Blue Charter project will meet in Cyprus from 21 to 24 March 2020. They will reflect on what they’ve achieved over the past year, and agree on a strategy for the coming year.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a landmark agreement by leaders to cooperate on ocean action. Since launching in 2018, 10 action groups led by 13 ‘champion’ countries have rallied Commonwealth members around pressing ocean issues like marine pollution, coral reef restoration and climate change.

Champion countries will share experiences, best practices and new ideas.

For more information, please contact Heidi Prislan, Commonwealth Blue Charter Adviser: [email protected] or [email protected]

Secretary-General hails progress on mangrove action

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland celebrated new in-roads made by Sri Lanka, chair of the Commonwealth’s Blue Charter Action Group on mangroves, by planting a mangrove plant in the country’s famous Koggala Lagoon.

The area is home to 10 out of the 22 true mangrove species found in Sri Lanka, and the site of extensive mangrove restoration efforts involving local communities, businesses and the government.

With about a quarter of the population living on 1300km of coastline, Sri Lanka’s mangroves are vital for the safety and livelihoods of coastal communities.

Ms Scotland said: “I am very pleased and proud that Sri Lanka has made the decision to lead the Blue Charter Group on mangroves.

“This work is going to be of pivotal importance if we are to achieve the aspirations set out in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, for reducing carbon and turning our globe into somewhere which is truly sustainable for our children in the future.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an agreement made by all 53 member states to work actively together to tackle ocean-related challenges.

Currently, twelve ‘champion countries’ lead nine action groups made of like-minded nations, who pursue joint strategies and action on issues like marine pollution, climate change andcoral reef restoration.

Sri Lanka champions the action group on mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods, which held its first meeting last month in Negombo.

Members include Sri Lanka (Champion), Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and the UK.

Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, HasanthiUrugodawatte Dissanayake, said: “Since holding our action group’s inaugural meeting on 7-9 October, Sri Lanka has demarcated 14,000 hectares of land which includes thousands of hectares to be allocated for mangroves.

“Above all, it is creating a common understanding of contribution of mangrove ecosystems to livelihoods and as a carbon sink.”

The country also made a voluntary commitment at the global ocean summit recently held in Oslo, Norway – the ‘Our Ocean’ conference – to identify all potential suitable areas for mangrove restoration and design a way to replant trees in these areas by 2030.

Sri Lanka also plans to expand its task force for mangrove restoration to engage all stakeholders from government, private sector and community based organisations.

The Secretary-General’s visit was hosted by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and the INSEE Cement Company – a green cement producer currently carrying out mangrove planting of around 4,500 plants in the Koggala Lagoon area.