Mangroves are tropical marine forests with enormous potential. They protect coastlines from erosion and storm surge; and provide food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife, and nurseries for commercially important fish and crustaceans.
They also fight climate change: The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that global mangrove forests store as much as 22.8 million tons of carbon per year in their roots, trunks and soil.
Although they provide valuable services to people and the planet, mangroves are in trouble. In addition to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and temperatures, mangrove forests are becoming depleted because their timber is valuable and valued by coastal communities as an excellent source of timber for construction, fuel and even medicine. Rampant coastal urbanization and unsustainable agricultural and aquaculture practices round out the long list of challenges.
The UN and Kenya join forces
But all hope is not lost! Sometimes innovative partnerships can lead to sustainable solutions. Over the past three years, UN agencies, the Kenyan government and other key partners have joined forces to launch several community-based conservation projects. They aim to address poverty and provide climate, biodiversity and local benefits to communities on the Kenyan coast.
Together with UNEP, the Kenya Forest Service, the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute and partners recently inaugurated the Vanga Blue Forests project in the Vanga Bay (south of Mombasa) on the coast of Kwale County, a pioneering initiative to extend carbon credits from the conservation and restoration of mangroves.
Vanga Blue’s sister project is located in nearby Gazi Bay. This first-of-its-kind initiative, launched two years ago, Mangroves together (“Mangroves Together”), raises money by selling carbon credits to people and organizations looking to reduce their carbon footprint, through Scottish charity ACES. This project supports the planting and conservation of mangrove trees. The payments for ‘mangrove carbon’ benefit the local community.
Mwanarusi Mwafrika, the coordinator of Vanga Blue Forests, told UN News that some animal species such as dugongs (marine mammals that are cousins to similar endangered manatees) have begun to disappear. Now they come back. Fishermen also report larger catches. This is because of the environmental conservation efforts we have made with the local people. †
Blue forests, green growth
The Vanga Blue Forests project focuses on preserving the trees as the locals have already planted the seedlings. It benefits about 9,000 residents of the villages of Vanga, Jimbo and Kiwegu. The villages form ‘VAJIKI’, a community forest association that oversees 460 hectares of forest land. Jimbo Village has established a nursery with 30,000 viable mangrove seedlings.
Harith Mohamed is the secretary of the community association and he believes that conservation is the way forward.
“If you upset the balance” [between] mangrove and terrestrial forests, then there will be consequences,” he told UN News, explaining: “Terrestrial forests are uphill and the mangroves are down along the water. So it’s important to preserve these forests to avoid flooding, because if the sea level rises, the farms cannot be farmed.”
The Vanga Blue Forests project supports sustainable community development processes focused on education, health, and water and sanitation needs. In the short time since launch, some five hectares of mangroves have been restored and that journey is expected to continue.
In addition, Vanga Blue has initiated vital projects that will improve the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in local fishing communities. For example, a kindergarten has been refurbished and a hospital has been refurbished with new equipment. Local sanitation projects are now underway.
Connecting cities, people and the ocean
Like the ocean, mangroves are huge carbon sinks. Compared to other terrestrial trees and forests, a single mangrove forest has a tenfold capacity to soak up carbon emissions. By protecting and enhancing these forests, carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and kept away.
They also promote resilience to climate change, according to Florian Lux of the Go Blue Project, a third blue growth initiative underway along Kenya’s southern coast, implemented by UNEP and UN-HABITAT and sponsored by the European Union. .
“I am pleased that the Go Blue Project has a mangrove restoration component. [Protection and sustainable use of mangroves provides] many opportunities to save the environment and also be beneficial to the local villagers. Carbon sequestration is driving resilience in communities along the oceans,” he told UN News.
The Go Blue Project, a joint initiative to promote a sustainable blue economy in all six provinces in Kenya’s coastal region, focuses on helping cities and towns deal with the impacts of climate change. One of the goals of the program is to harness important coastal and marine resources to create jobs for more than 3,000 young people and women.
Goodluck Mbaga, an environmental activist and conservationist in Kilifi County, reiterated the importance of considering ocean health.
“It is necessary to embrace the preservation of the marine environment in particular. There is a lot of potential in the ocean as an alternative livelihood. There is more to reap from the ocean than the terrestrial activities of life,” he told UN News, echoing UNEP’s advocacy that rather than depleting or polluting these resources, we should develop ways to utilize and conserve them. to protect.