Boosting the defences

In the Pacific, coastal ecosystems, particularly mangroves, are under severe threat. Increasing population, coastal development, squatter settlements and increasing demand for resources are having a serious impact. With climate change only making things worse for these vulnerable areas, IUCN is taking action.

Sa’anapu community mangrove conservation area, Samoa

A new project ‘Mangrove Ecosystems for Climate Change and Livelihoods’ (MESCAL) is helping Pacific islanders protect their mangroves to safeguard the critical roles they play as natural buffers against extreme weather, as carbon sinks and for increasing the resilience of communities to climate change.

Mangroves are trees and shrubs that live in the area between the land and the sea. Their strong and complex root structures allow them to survive the roughest of weather and provide nursery grounds and protection for fish and other marine species that Pacific Islanders rely on for food and income.

The presence of mangroves along coastlines and rivers provide the first line of defence against cyclones, high winds and storm surges. Healthy mangrove ecosystems are also important carbon sinks and play a significant role in the global reduction of greenhouse gases.

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that mangroves contribute an annual value of up to US$ 900,000 per square kilometre in services such as protecting shorelines, fisheries production, supply of building materials, tourism and recreation and improving water quality.

But despite such a long list of benefits, mangroves throughout the Pacific are being degraded or destroyed by their use as rubbish dumps, by overharvesting, and by tourism and housing development.

With the involvement of national governments, NGOs and local communities, MESCAL is restoring mangroves across Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. It is the first major project to be implemented by IUCN Oceania under the Pacific Mangroves Initiative.

The project is being funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) under its International Climate Protection Initiative. Project partners include IUCN Member the University of the South Pacific (USP), Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), WorldFish Solomon Islands Pacific Base, Vanuatu Cultural Centre and Tonga Community Development Trust, as well as the governments of the participating countries.

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