Importance of Mangrove Forest Ecosystems
Coastal villages often heavily rely on fishing for livelihood, and often have houses and buildings close to the shore. Areas of coast with mangrove forests benefit from the mangroves supporting large fisheries, and protecting the shoreline from erosion and sedimentation. Although these benefits are significant to the local community, historically mangroves have been cut for firewood and construction poles as another source of livelihood. These cutting activities, when not managed sustainably, can lead to deforestation of the mangroves and loss of the ecosystem services that the mangroves provide (coastal protection, fish spawning habitat and livelihood are just three examples of these services).
Scientific studies have shown that Mangroves ’sequester carbon at a rate two to four times greater than mature tropical forests’ and contain ’the highest carbon density of all terrestrial ecosystems’ (Fatoyinbo et al, 2017). Mangroves are also a key part of coastal ecosystems, and renowned for an array of ecosystem services, including fisheries and fibre production, sediment regulation, and storm/tsunami protection (Donato et al, 2011) The key to mangroves is the large amounts of biomass stored underground in the extensive root system. These roots support the large trees in muddy coastal areas where mangroves thrive (Komiyama et al, 2008).
Coastal mangroves and saltmarshes have historically been undervalued and considered by many to be wastelands. As a result, many areas have been drained, reclaimed and become degraded from a range of human activities or otherwise lost.
The ecological value of these habitats which serve several purposes:
- provide feeding and breeding habitat for fish, birds and crustaceans
- act as filters for nutrients and sediments, reduce erosion and maintain water quality
- provide protection from storms and cyclones
- act as carbon sinks.
Mangroves are essential breeding grounds for fish stock, including prawns, crabs and fin fish such as barramundi, many of which are important for the fishing industry and a source of protein. Saltmarsh also provides shelter for fish, especially juveniles and smaller fish species, when inundation occurs during high tides. Studies from Australia have recorded over 40 species of fish inhabiting tidal saltmarsh areas, including commercial and recreational species such as yellowfin, bream, sand whiting, mullet, garfish, eels and crabs.
Invertebrates, including crabs, prawns, molluscs, spiders and insects are prolific in areas of saltmarsh and are preyed upon by fish and birds. Migratory waders, including species listed under international bird agreements, use saltmarshes for feeding and roosting.
Coastal wetlands trap and stabilise sediments to lessen the effects of floodwaters and tidal movements, collect and recycle nutrients and contaminants from run-off and help maintain water quality.
Both mangroves and saltmarshes protect coastal foreshores by absorbing the energy of wind and wave action and providing a buffer that helps minimise erosion. With predicted increases in storm surge intensity and rising sea levels associated with climate change, these habitats will become increasingly important in protecting coasts.
Mangroves, saltmarsh and seagrasses capture and store substantial quantities of carbon both in plants and in the sediment below (‘blue carbon’). In Australia for example, coastal wetland ecosystems capture carbon on a per hectare basis at rates of up to 66 times higher and store 5 times more carbon in their soils than those of terrestrial ecosystems such as forests.
Saffron Aid will be working with local Myanmar Partners and Australian universities to regenerate mangrove ecosystems with the first to be in the Ayeyarwady Region on a 4,000 hectare area. Not only will the project restore the environment giving benefits to the community but it will also help sequester carbon in the trees and soil.
Measurement of benefits of project will be using the Gold Standard methodology which takes into consideration effects on both the environment and community. Carbon calculations will be using the VCU methodology for Mangrove Sequestration.
- Set up a plant nursery to raise endemic mangrove species seedlings
- Planting endemic mangrove species seedlings using the skills of the local community
- Train existing Forestry Department workers in use of new technology skills such as Drones
- Establish a scientific research station for use by universities and research students/scientists to study mangrove, marine, estuary and land ecosystems.
- Research Station to be used for training research field assistants, park rangers in modern conservation methods in conjunction with Myanmar Forest Association.
- Development of a Carbon Sink to sequester carbon pollution.
- Restoration of the local ecology
- Restoration of fish nurseries
- Increased forest area for bird nesting
- Cleaner water caused by increased mangrove filtration
- Employment for local community members
- Community benefits would include solar projects, education scholarships, clean cooking stoves, improved health outcomes
- Training for Park Rangers, Field Assistants, Administrators and forestry workers
- Provide income for local communities
- Improved fish stock will lead to higher fish yields for villagers
- Collaboration between Australian and Myanmar Universities and Researchers – increases local scientific skills and understanding
This project is replicable on other mangrove ecosystems identified in Myanmar.