Mangrove Blue Carbon for Climate Change Mitigation

NAIROBI, Oct 7 2021 (IPS) – Smelly, boggy, and full of bugs, mangroves’ superpowers are well hidden. However, there is rising confidence that mangroves are the silver bullet to combat the effects of climate change.

“Mangrove ecosystems are a habitat and nursery grounds for various plants and animals and can absorb three to four times more carbon than tropical upland forests, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Dr Sevvandi Jayakody, a senior lecturer at Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, tells IPS.

A natural line of defence

Mangrove forests also act as a natural defence against storm surges, including mitigating the effects of cyclones and tsunamis, says Dr Nicholas Hardman‑Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Within this context, he says, Commonwealth countries are working together under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement made by all 54 member states, to actively work together to tackle ocean-related challenges and meet global commitments on sustainable ocean development.

The Blue Charter works through voluntary action groups led by ‘champion countries’, who rally around marine pollution and the sustainable blue economy.

The Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group consists of 13 countries, including Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Maldives, Nigeria, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago Vanuatu, and the United Kingdom, is championed by Sri Lanka.

Hardman‑Mountford tells IPS that countries exchange knowledge centred on mangrove protection, management, and sustainability within the action group. Shared knowledge includes a wide range of topics, including policy, legislation, and regulatory frameworks.

Leveraging on the protective power of mangroves, Jayakody says that Sri Lanka is actively building its second line of defence. The country’s first line of defence, the reefs, were heavily compromised by the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami – one of the worst disasters in modern history, killing nearly 230 000 people across dozens of countries.

Such was the devastation that the government of Sri Lanka estimated losses of over $1 billion in assets and $330 million in potential output.

Worse still, approximately 35 000 people died or went missing. In Sri Lanka alone, property damage included 110 000 houses, of which 70 000 were destroyed. In all, at least 250 000 families lost their means of support.

Combatting the impacts of climate change

Experts say that mangroves have immense capacity to prevent such catastrophes and combat other devastating effects of climate change.

Bolstered by growing scientific evidence, Trinidad and Tobago, the dual-island Caribbean nation, has made significant strides in building its defence using mangroves.

Dr Rahanna Juman, Acting Director at the Institute of Marine Affairs, a government-funded research institute, tells IPS that in 2014, the government of Trinidad and Tobago commissioned an aerial survey of the country. Using this data, an estimate of carbon in mangrove forests across the country was ascertained.

“This information illustrated how mangrove and other hardwood forests could offset emissions and was incorporated into the Greenhouse Gas inventory of Trinidad and Tobago. Importantly, the survey conclusively demonstrated that mangrove forests store more carbon per hectare than other hardwood forests,” Juman expounds.

In 2020, the Institute of Marine Affairs received funding from the British High Commission to fund a mangrove soil carbon assessment project involving Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Juman indicates that the assessment found that “the amount of carbon in the mangrove soil was many times larger than the amount of carbon above the ground. This is an assessment that could be replicated in other Commonwealth countries because we have developed a low-cost technique of undertaking this important assessment.”

Adding that Mangroves are starting to be incorporated into the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme, which means countries could potentially earn money from protecting and restoring mangroves.

Mangrove blue carbon

Meanwhile, Hardman‑Mountford cites various challenges in exploring blue carbon because it is still an evolving area of science and policy.

Sri Lanka understands this challenge all too well. After the Tsunami, Jayakody says that the government launched vast mangrove restoration projects covering over 2 000 hectares in partnership with other agencies.

Due to limited information on mangroves, she tells IPS that a majority of these projects failed. Undeterred and leveraging on scientific research over the years, Sri Lanka is today a success story in restoring and conserving mangrove cover estimated at 19 600 hectares.

Other challenges facing countries keen on mangrove blue carbon include a lack of protection for mangroves because approximately 75 percent of mangrove forests globally remain unprotected and overexploited.

Over the years, Jayakody indicates that mangroves have been at a very high risk of destruction because their power to prevent coastal erosion, protect shorelines, and provide livelihoods for coastal communities through fisheries was not fully understood.

Hardman‑Mountford agrees, adding that mangrove forests have declined globally with a loss of between 30 to 50 percent over the past 50 years from over-harvesting, pollution, agriculture, aquaculture, and coastal development.

The Commonwealth has a huge role to play in reversing this decline. Overall, there are 47 Commonwealth countries with a coastline.

“Nearly 90 percent of Commonwealth countries with a coast have mangroves, and at least 38 of these countries with mangroves have provided some level of protection to their mangroves. In all, 16 countries have protected about half or more of their mangroves,” he says.

Mangroves
Image credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

This is a challenge that Sri Lanka is successfully overcoming. With an estimated 40 percent of the population in Sri Lanka living along the coastline, Jayakody says that there was an urgent need to protect both livelihoods and coastlines from further degradation.

“In 2015, Sri Lanka established the National Mangrove Expert Committee, and through that, all mangroves were mapped. More so, several new areas were brought under protection, and there have been relentless efforts to improve the communities’ understanding of the importance of mangrove ecosystem,” she says.

Further, Sri Lanka recently validated the Best Practice Guidelines on the Restoration of Mangroves in Sri Lanka and the national mangrove action plan, in line with the mangrove policy adopted in 2020.

Other countries making strides in the right direction include the Australian government’s involvement with blue carbon and especially ongoing efforts to build capacity in blue carbon science, policy and economics through multi-sectoral partnerships.

“To support its efforts in blue carbon advocacy and outreach, the Australian government launched the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC) at the UNFCCC CoP in Paris in 2015,” says Ms Heidi Prislan, a Blue Charter Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Australia is also one of the 28 countries that refer specifically to the mitigation benefits of carbon sequestration associated with coastal wetlands in its National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. In comparison, 59 other countries mention coastal ecosystems as part of their adaptation strategies.

To increase opportunities for blue carbon to participate in the national emissions reduction scheme, the Emissions Reduction Fund, the Australian government has supported research into potential mitigation methodologies that could be implemented to generate carbon credits from domestic projects.

Equally important, she says that Commonwealth member countries have collectively made 44 national commitments to protect or restore mangroves.

As the world stares at a catastrophe from the devastating effects of climate change, the massive potential of blue carbon and, more so, mangrove blue carbon to bolster climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience efforts can no longer be ignored.

This article was originally published by IPS.

How space tech is aiding mangrove conservation in the Commonwealth

Powerful satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth are helping some Commonwealth countries save and restore vital mangrove ecosystems while combatting climate change.

Officials from Trinidad and Tobago and Sri Lanka recently shared how they are using sophisticated earth-imaging technology to gather valuable data on the coverage, health and changes in the features of mangroves along their coastlines and rivers.

The information is critical to stemming the rapid disappearance of mangroves worldwide, with 30 to 50 per cent of these marine ecosystems lost mainly to deforestation over the last 50 years.

The data is also key to understanding mangroves’ capacity to capture and store away carbon from the atmosphere – the main driver of climate change.

Country experiences

Countries shared their experiences during an online event organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat to mark International Mangrove Day on 26 July, which also included insights from Planet, a world leader in satellite imagery technology.

Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at the Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka, Hasanthi Dissanayake, highlighted:

“Sri Lanka became a global leader in mangrove restoration and conservation after the devastating impacts of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. We learnt from the experience and have spearheaded the conservation in our country and across the Commonwealth.”

The country has since advanced in strides, championing the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods since 2018, establishing a cross-sectoral Mangrove Taskforce and adopting a national policy on the conservation and sustainable use of mangroves in 2020.

The Director of the Biodiversity Secretariat at the Ministry of Environment, Pathma Abeykoon, also shared how satellite technology is used to track changes to mangrove ecosystems over time, in addition to modelling disasters and mapping vulnerable areas for disaster preparation, management and recovery.

Mitigating climate change

In Trinidad and Tobago, scientists at the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) combined several different layers of data in order to learn how to manage mangroves sustainably, and study its role as a carbon ‘sink’.

“Mangrove forests actually store something like four times more carbon than terrestrial forests,” explained Nikia Gooding, a geospatial research fellow at the country’s Institute of Marine Affairs.

“If we’re able to understand how much carbon is stored and sequestered in these forests, then we can start an argument as to why they should be conserved and protected, because it’s one of the ways for us to mitigate against climate change.”

The IMA has been using a combination of aerial and satellite imagery, the most recent Google Earth imagery, LandSat data produced by American Space Agency (NASA) and other sources to monitor mangrove ecosystems in Trinidad and Tobago over a 25-year period from 1994 to 2019. The findings were published earlier this year.

Data sets from 3-D laser scans and physical measurements of mangroves, soil analysis and carbon testing, are also being used to accurately quantify the carbon stored in mangrove forests, both above and below the ground.

Ms Gooding highlighted the benefits of free online and virtual training modules offered through Commonwealth Blue Charter which trains mangrove technicians and managers on the use of GIS tools to map mangroves and contribute to policy development.

Democratising data

Presenting the vast applications of satellite data, Planet’s Strategic Accounts manager for the EMEA region, Mark Richardson, said: “At Planet, we collect massive amounts of data, every single day. We want to democratise access to our imagery and fundamentally that means ensuring those people who need it the most are able to access those data.”

A frontrunner in the field, Planet uses 180 small satellites to scan and produce images of the Earth every day at a 3-metre resolution, with 21 larger satellites scanning at 50 centimetre resolution. At last, 20 terra bytes of data are downloaded from the satellites every single day.

This data has been used by a wide range of stakeholders, including mangrove researchers focusing on ‘blue carbon’, habitat mapping and protection, and storm impacts.

Adviser and Blue Charter lead at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Jeff Ardron, said: “One of the aims of the Commonwealth Blue Charter is to bring countries together, along with other action-oriented partners, to share experiences and discuss solutions to common challenges.

“These include new approaches that take advantage of emerging and low-cost technologies to build resilience of local communities.”

The webinar was part of an ongoing series focused innovative solutions and best practices being implemented by the 10 country-led Action Groups of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

About Commonwealth Blue Charter Training opportunities

The Commonwealth Blue Charter during 2020, pivoted from in-country training events to the virtual and self-paced programmes. Since mid-2020 the Commonwealth Blue Charter has trained over 300 government officials and scientists across eight topics, including Mangrove Mapping for Managers and Technicians. These courses are free and aim to help Action Group members gain new skills or enhance existing ones.

Over the coming months further modules will become available, relating to coral reef mapping, blue carbon, blue economy and sustainable coastal fisheries.

To keep up-to-date with online training opportunities and events subscribe to the Commonwealth Blue Charter newsletter.

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.”