New study on Trinidad and Tobago’s mangroves paves the way to global carbon market

New research led by Trinidad and Tobago’s Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) will be the first step in laying the groundwork for the country to trade carbon internationally, supporting the economy while fighting climate change.

Carbon dioxide is one of the main drivers of climate change, and mangroves have an immense capacity to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it away for millions of years – a process known as carbon sequestration.

The Mangrove Soil Carbon Sequestration Assessment project, funded by the British High Commission in Port of Spain, aims to measure how much carbon is stored in local mangrove soils and give it a monetary value. This would enable trading in the emerging ‘carbon market’, where units of greenhouse gas emissions are priced and traded, in order to limit climate change.

The comprehensive, high quality data the project will provide will help develop more targeted evidence-based conservation policies for the country’s 7500 hectares of mangroves, while enabling it to earn foreign exchange income for mangrove preservation in the future. It will also contribute to Trinidad and Tobago’s commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Minister of Planning and Development, Hon Camille Robinson-Regis, welcomed the initiative: “This project will be highly profitable to Trinidad and Tobago, not only for its monetary value, but also for its environmental benefits as well as being a tool in our National Development Strategy and our Climate Action Goals (SDG13).”

British High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, Harriet Cross, stated: “This project shows the importance of ensuring that we are collecting the right data to make informed choices. Projects like this help us to be ambitious, meet Paris Agreement goals, support stronger national action and stronger international collaboration, all of which are needed to tackle climate change and protect current and future generations.”

The project will be presented as a case study during a virtual event organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat on the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, 26 July, in collaboration with members of the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group under the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

Mangroves – an untapped climate action treasure

Mangrove forests are among the most carbon-dense ecosystems on earth, with over 90 percent of mangrove carbon stored in their soils. The assessment involves the analysis of soil cores from mangrove forests around Trinidad and Tobago, covering a wide gamut of environmental variables.

The study also examines which mangrove forests store the most carbon, as well as the factors that affect the amount they store.

“In the Caribbean, we have not quantified how much carbon is stored in our mangrove soils. The significance of the study is that understanding how much carbon is stored helps in terms of how we can use and monetize this information,” explained IMA Director (Ag.), Dr. Rahanna Juman.

“This will allow us to investigate initiatives where we can receive payments to maintain our mangrove forests in a healthy state, or even rehabilitate degraded ecosystems so that they can continue to store carbon.”

The project builds upon another UK-funded study conducted in 2020 by Professor John Agard of the University of the West Indies in collaboration with the IMA, which measured the carbon content within mangrove biomass. Together with that research, the IMA will develop the most accurate estimation of mangrove carbon storage ever conducted for Trinidad and Tobago, among a small handful in the world.

The project will be shared at a special webinar on International Mangrove Day with a view to exchanging views, lessons and experiences with other Commonwealth member countries and supporting the work of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

Lessons From the Restoration of a Mangrove System in Point Lisas, Trinidad and Tobago

UPDATE: To mark the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem on 26 July, 2021, the Commonwealth Secretariat is hosting a virtual event to showcase how powerful satellite technology can support the conservation and sustainable management of mangroves in the Commonwealth. Register here.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. To share your own case study, please contact us

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“Once you recreate the natural hydrological environment and there is a source of seedlings, natural mangrove regeneration will occur.” Dr Rahanna Juman, Director (Acting), Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago

Summary

Significant impacts on the mangroves in Trinidad and Tobago date back to the 1780s, when the St Ann’s River was diverted and wetlands were reclaimed to expand the city of Port of Spain. Development of roads, housing, industries and other infrastructure along the coast has contributed to the decline of the mangrove forest. For instance, in 1979, approximately 500 ha of forest from Couva to north of Claxton Bay were reclaimed for the construction of the Point Lisas Industrial Park and DeepWater Port.

Since 2001, Trinidad and Tobago has had in place a National Policy and Programmes on Wetland Conservation. This includes the concept of “no net loss” of wetlands, their values and their functions on publicly owned lands and waters, and requires mitigation action where mangroves have been removed or adversely affected as a result of development works.

This case study shares the experience of a restoration project in the vicinity of Point Lisas Industrial Park, initiated in 1999. A historic case study is useful to show how a situation has played out – giving the benefit of hindsight to draw lessons. This example shows that the key success factor for this mangrove restoration project was not the planting but rather the restoration of the hydrology in the area to create the right conditions for natural colonisation and recovery.

The issue

Point Lisas, on the west coast of Trinidad, was developed in the late 1970s as a deep-water port and industrial park. The west coast is where the majority of mangrove forests are to be found; it is also where more than 70 per cent of the population reside and has experienced the most intense development.

In the late 1990s, the ammonia industry had cleared a 1200 m2 area of fringing mangrove forest to enable the placement of a pipeline to carry waste-water into the Gulf of Paria.

It was expected that the mangrove forest would regenerate naturally as seedlings were available from the adjoining wetlands.

After 18 months, however, the mangrove showed no sign of regeneration.

Given the national policy for no-net loss of mangrove ecosystems, action was taken to investigate the reasons for the lack of regeneration and to attempt restoration.

The response

In 1999, a replanting project was undertaken to recover the mangroves at Point Lisas cleared during the construction of the pipeline.

During the laying of the pipeline, marl used to the cover the pipeline was unevenly placed, altering the topography of the area and restricting tidal flow. To restore the natural topography, profiles were taken in the cleared area, and were compared with the adjoining mangrove forest. From these profiles, the amount of material to be excavated to restore the topography and to re-establish the tidal hydrology was determined.

Before replanting, the topography was restored by removing the overburden to re-establish the tidal flushing; this allows the area to be flooded by the high tide.

Following these works, and once it was established that the area was being flooded by the tide, 261 seedlings of three species of mangrove were planted – 170 red (Rhizophora mangle), 76 black (Avicennia germinans) and 15 white (Laguncularia mangle).

The long-term monitoring of this project has enabled observation of the site’s response over time.

Partnerships and support

The Institute of Marine Affairs, a government-funded research institute, was commissioned in 1999 by the ammonia plant that had laid the pipeline to restore the cleared mangrove area. The project was conducted jointly as a public-private partnership, with funding provided by the private company. Monitoring of this mangrove forest west of the plant still continues up to today.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

After 10 months, the number of seedlings recorded had increased to 354 – 82 per cent of which were natural colonisers. Only 24 per cent of the transplants were recorded.

Most of the seedlings observed were black and white mangroves and they were natural colonisers (169 natural black mangrove and 120 natural white mangrove). The red mangroves, which were more abundant closer to the Couva river mouth did not establish in this area. The black and white mangroves dominated this area of swamp. This restored area had healthy seedlings and saplings and was washed regularly by high tides.

By 2003, the tree density was 30 trees per 0.01 ha, with tree height between 6 and 8 m. Shortly after 2003, the area suffered mangrove die back disease, but by 2006 there had been another period of regrowth, with the tree density returning to 13 trees per 0.01 ha and an average height of almost 10 m. There have been subsequent periods of die back and regrowth in the restoration area as a result of disease and infestation. However, there has not been any further replanting since 1999 and so the system appears quite resilient.

The restoration project in 1999 was considered a success; however, the planting of mangrove seedlings proved not necessary once the physical characteristics of the site had been restored. Without reconstruction of the gradient and tidal hydrology, the replanting would have failed to re-establish mangroves in this area.

Challenges

The main challenge was to determine why natural regeneration had not occurred as had been expected, given the plentiful supply of seedlings in the adjoining wetland areas.

The approach taken to conduct scientific surveys to determine what may have changed in the physical environment proved successful. This supports the need for evidence (scientific)-based decision-making.

Sources

Juman, R.A. (2013) ‘Restoration of a Mangrove System in Point Lisas, Trinidad and Tobago’. Presented to the 1st Mangrove Forum, Guyana.

Juman, R.A. and Hassanali, K. (2013) ‘Mangrove Conservation in Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies’, Chapter 2 in G. Gleason and T.R. Victor (eds) Mangrove Ecosystems. Nova Science Publications accessed via https://www.ima.gov.tt/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/ Mangrove-Conservation-in-TT.pdf

Juman, R.A. and Ramsewak, D. (2013) ‘Status of Mangrove Forests in Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies’. Caribbean Journal of Science, June.

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Sustainable aquaculture strategy to boost growth and food security

Commonwealth countries have outlined a joint plan to boost economic growth and food security through the sustainable farming of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants.

Aquaculture generates more than half of the seafood people eat across the world, and sustains some 26 million jobs. This translates to about 80 million tonnes of fish produced globally per year (up from 3 million in 1970), valued at around US$ 240 billion.

Nine countries are now joining forces to explore ways of expanding the sector within the Commonwealth. They are part of the Blue Charter action group on sustainable aquaculture, whose aim is to develop local communities, create more jobs, produce high quality food, while ensuring a healthy ocean.

To date, members include: Cyprus (as the lead or ‘champion’ country), The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Fiji, Malaysia, Mauritius, Seychelles and Trinidad and Tobago.

Following the action group’s inaugural meeting in Cyprus on 25-27 February, the Director of Fisheries and Marine Resourses, Ms Marina Argyrou said: “Aquaculture, being the fastest growing food producing industry on a global scale,  has an important role in contributing to food security, creating employment opportunities, as well as improving the welfare of local communities.

“It also has the potential to provide environmental services in the framework of fisheries re-stocking programmes, as well as restoration projects for mangroves and corals.”

Ms Argyrou referred to aquaculture as a “main pillar of blue growth”, adding that: “It is our obligation to develop it in a sustainable way so as it will be financially viable, socially acceptable and environmentally compatible.”

The Action group will assess aquaculture practices in member states, outline shared priorities for action, and establish a framework for cooperation with the European Union and other international organisations.

It is one of 10 such groups under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement by all Commonwealth leaders to cooperate actively to protect ocean health and promote good ocean governance.

These action groups are led by ‘champion’ countries have stepped forward to rally members around key ocean issues, such as marine pollution, climate change, ocean acidification and the sustainable blue economy.

Ms Argyou concluded: “Cyprus is honoured to champion the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on sustainable aquaculture. We hope this platform will spur action among like-minded countries and partners, with a focus on knowledge-sharing, cooperation, and taking a science-based approach to sustainably develop our activities.”