Mangroves to the rescue

23 February 2010 | News story

Coastal ecosystems in the Pacific region are under severe threat. Increasing population, coastal development, squatter settlements and increasing demand for resources are having a serious impact. Climate change will only make things worse for these vulnerable coastal areas, and urgent action is needed to address the ongoing threats.

A new project named “Mangrove Ecosystems for Climate Change and Livelihoods” (MESCAL), will help Pacific islanders protect and conserve their mangroves to improve their livelihoods and build resilience to the impacts of climate change on coastal zones.

Mangroves are trees and shrubs that live in the area between the land and the sea and are one of the vitally important coastal ecosystems of the Pacific. They thrive in mud and salt water where other trees could not survive. Their strong and complex root structures allow them to survive the roughest of weather, and also provide nursery grounds and protection from predators for fish and other marine animals that Pacific Islanders rely on for food security and income. A 2006 report by the United Nations Environment Program estimates that mangroves contribute an annual value of up to US$900,000 per square kilometre in services such as protecting foreshores, fisheries production and supply of building materials (e.g. timber), tourism and recreation and improving water quality.

The first meeting for the MESCAL project was held last week in Honiara, hosted by the Solomon Islands Government. More than 30 participants, including mangrove managers and scientists from Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, met to further define the activities of the project, and develop a clear action strategy. These experts were assisted by resource people from international NGOs, regional environmental organisations, and universities.

Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Mr Rence Sore, Permanent Secretary of the Environment and Conservation Division of the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Meteorology in the Solomon Islands, said that the loss of mangrove forests, coastal development, and sea-level rise all contribute to the increase in flooding. He added that the importance of mangroves in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change is often underestimated.

The 3 day meeting highlighted the issues and challenges the region faces in relation to coastal ecosystem management. Participants from participating countries, IUCN, The University of the South Pacific (USP), James Cook University, The University of Tasmania, Wetlands International, and WorldFish, provided valuable inputs into the way forward, in particular by highlighting the issues and challenges that need to be addressed in each country. Participants agreed that project activities will include demonstration projects, governance, economics, carbon sequestration, local capacity development, communication, advocacy and learning. They also agreed that the project should be implemented using a partnership approach where long term engagement is emphasized and where resource people from IUCN and partner organizations will focus on supporting countries with necessary technical support.

MESCAL Project Director, Dr Padma Lal from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), concluded that the meeting was a great success, with participants expressing great enthusiasm and ambition for the project.

The project is implemented by the IUCN Regional Office for Oceania and its partners. Funding was generously made available under the International Climate Initiative of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

For more information, please contact:

Padma Lal, Chief Technical Advisor (Initiatives), IUCN Oceania Regional Office
Tel: +679 3319084, padma.lal@iucn.org