Safeguarding mangrove ecosystems for their ecological, social and environmental value was the central topic of discussion amongst five Pacific Island Countries during an Induction Workshop of the Mangrove Ecosystems for Climate Change Adaptation and Livelihoods (MESCAL) Project undertaken in Suva last week from October 27th to 30th.
MESCAL is a new regional project being implemented in Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands under the guidance of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The four day Induction Meeting of the project provided the opportunity for the national MESCAL Project Coordinators to meet and discuss opportunities and challenges each country is facing with respect to mangrove loss. In particular countries discussed how to reverse the current rate of mangrove loss, especially when mangroves are considered “no-mans land”.
One of the main challenges identified by the five countries is that mangrove ownership is not clear, which over the years has further contributed to the demise of mangrove areas.
“The issue of ownership of mangroves remains unclear in Samoa leading to overlaps in mandates and management frameworks,” says Ms. Malama Momoemausu of Samoa.
“Through the MESCAL project, Samoa and the other four countries would attempt to address these overlaps and improve coordination among communities, government(s) and private sector”
Similar issues are being faced in the Solomon Islands, where “logging of mangrove areas is a key concern, simply because the local people view mangroves as a common resource which unfortunately has drawn them to exploit without taking any responsibility,” says Mr. Hugo Tafea of Solomon Islands.
Highly valued for their goods and services and protective role for communities living in and around the coastal zone, mangroves are indeed being lost to uncontrolled human interventions at the local and global level. Weak policies and legislations including inadequate monitoring and control has led to an increase in the rate of loss of mangrove ecosystems through uncontrolled harvesting and conversion of the land to other land uses.
In developing a long term programme to safeguard and sustainably manage the mangrove ecosystem, MESCAL will work at the community level to look into ways and means where community, institutional and legislative governance can provide the framework from which partnerships and incentives can ensure realistic and achievable sustainable change.
“Based on existing data there is an urgent need to strengthen coordination, legislative frameworks, and support to address information gaps that will allow us to effectively manage our mangrove resources,” says Mr. Sione Lepa of Tonga.
“This is another common need for all Pacific Island Countries and because of our similar geographical features, we can implement similar solutions to problems facing our natural resources”
A field visit to Fiji’s coral coast provided the national coordinators with the chance to look at two initiatives; a commercially motivated venture and a more conventional NGOs community based approach. The former utilizes a “business and biodiversity” approach and is being run by the prestigious Beqa Adventure Divers.
Located in Galoa village, along the coral coast of Viti Levu, Beqa Adventure Divers provides a cash incentive to the youth of Galoa village to plant mangroves along their coastal area. The goal of the company is to ensure its operation is carbon neutral by offsetting its carbon emissions by planting mangroves. With two hectares of mangroves planted, the initiative is attracting the attention of local businesses and non-government organizations.
“The added value to this approach is that the mangroves will improve the reef quality which in turn adds value to our business,” indicates Arthur Sokimi, the resident Marine Scientist at Beqa Adventure Divers.
In Naboutini village, also located along the coral coast, 17 year old planted mangrove stands are bringing fish species back, according to the villagers. Increased fish catches and reduction to damages to the village infrastructure from storm surges are some obvious benefits to replanting mangroves. Having experienced the benefits of mangrove rehabilitation, the villagers of Naboutini are now extending their replanting initiative to cover more than 2 km of their coastal zone.