Two Roads Diverged in a Blue-Green Wood: Supporting Mangrove Protection

By Student Delegate Mariah Harrod

The Seychelles’ updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) aims to preserve coastal marine environments for climate mitigation. The new NDC singled out mangrove forests for these protections and hinged its more ambitious targets upon international support.

Seven species of mangroves—of about eighty worldwide—grow in the Seychelles. Mangroves are trees or shrubs living in slow-moving, saline coastal waters with low-oxygen soil. They only grow in tropical and subtropical climates, putting a tremendous onus on developing countries (where most of these forests are found) to protect mangroves as their importance to climate action becomes internationally recognized.

Mangrove forests sequester between two and four times more carbon than tropical forests and up to fifty times more than terrestrial trees. Each tree can store about half a ton of CO2 in its lifetime. Yet the benefits of mangrove forests expand beyond the climate realm. Mangrove roots lock down sediment, stabilizing the coastline and preventing sediment pollution in water. This, in turn, protects coral reefs dependent upon low turbidity. Mangrove root systems also serve as a nursery for young animals by providing shelter from predators in the still, shallow water. Wildlife depends so heavily upon these areas that studies show that destroying mangrove habitat decreases local fish populations.

Humans rely on mangroves as well. Locals have long reaped the rich resources of these areas, collecting the timber, fish, and shellfish found there. Yet the riches of mangrove forests drive overexploitation, causing ecological degradation. Pressures mount on these tropical habitats where both poverty and population are concentrated and urban development expands. About 50% of mangrove forests worldwide have been destroyed over the last fifty years. As mangroves store large pools of carbon, their decomposition releases substantial quantities of greenhouse gases, contributing to the climate crisis.

Many locals in the Seychelles and elsewhere are now trying to restore these forests while still generating income. One Mahe community built a hotel with the express purpose of growing and preserving mangroves. The resort offers guided tours and kayaking alongside planting activities for locals as well as guests. Indeed, the current demand to protect wetlands has tightly knit these communities as nurturing and monitoring the mangroves depends heavily on local volunteers. With fishing and tourism remaining the main sectors of the Seychelles economy, mangrove restoration promises to keep money in the hands of locals and keep locals connected to each other and their environment.

As many nations continue to take lackluster climate action, the blue-green woods of mangrove forests symbolize a choice: do we take the muddy road leading to the preservation of coastal communities, or do we travel the well-trod path of business as usual? The Seychelles strives to take the former road to safeguard its future, and other countries can similarly strap on their gaiters.

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