Over the past 30 years, half of the worlds’ mangrove population has been eradicated, but a combined mangrove rehabilitation project across Asia is helping to restore lost populations.
For many people, mangroves are just muddy, swampy places filled with mosquitoes, snakes and spiders, but these unique vegetations are one of the most important components of our ecosystem, supporting breeding and feeding grounds from fish to reptiles.
‘If you were to scoop up just one teaspoon of mud from a North Queensland mangrove forest and look at it under a very strong microscope, you would find that it contains more than 10 billion bacteria - that's amongst the highest found in marine mud anywhere in the world’, highlighted The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) biologist Janet Ley.
Mangrove forests also provide safe nesting and feeding sites for herons, egrets and other birds. In fact, in Australia biologists recorded 230 species of birds flitting through Australian mangroves for food, nesting or shelter. Not only this, but Mangroves are also home to many snakes and spiders, and flying foxes.
‘All in all, biologists have found that mangrove forests are one of the most important habitats in the world’, continued Ley.
It is reported that around 40% of the world's mangrove forests are located in Asia, and are under severe threat. Global Nature Fund (GNF) have reported that mangroves are harvested for timber and fuel wood; large areas of woodland are cleared by the local people to make way for urban expansion, nets, and prawn farms. They also highlighted that incautious fisherman, working in the shallow water, often destroy the new shoots.
‘With the destruction of these forests, numerous animal species lose their natural habitat as mangroves are important breeding and spawning grounds as well as sources of food’, highlighted Katharina Trump from GNF.
The mangrove rehabilitation project, which was established by Global Nature Fund (GNF) in 2012 to combat this destruction, has now seen 137,000 seedlings planted through 114 hectres of mangrove forest in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Cambodia.
The success of the project derives from its meticulous planning. GNF confirm that: designated areas are prepared prior to the mangrove restoration. The necessary mangroves are then grown in tree nurseries and so-called local people’s “household gardens”. After the mangrove cultivation, they are converted to vegetable gardens for their personal use and the regional market. As soon as the trees are big enough, they are planted.
The benefits of the project also surpass just the rehabilitation of mangroves. As an important source of income, the local population benefits from intact mangrove forests because they are an income for them, as well as for protection of coastlines from tidal waves and soil erosion.
‘Additionally, mangrove forests are among the most effective carbons sinks of all forest types: one hectare of intact mangrove forest can store until 1,000 tons carbon per year’, emphasized GNF.
In the future, to relieve pressure on the eco-systems in the long run, GNF aim to encourage opportunities to generate alternative incomes and to offer environmental education programmes to the local population.
Data will also be collected on all animal and plant species in the area. GNF have said that this will serve as the basis for the development of country-specific long term protection concepts.
This project, which is being funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, aims to continue until December 2015 and is hoped that these beautiful natives not only grow, but thrive within their environment.
‘Walking through a mangrove can be like going on a giant treasure hunt. Hidden within the twisted vines and branches are amazing reptiles, wild looking insects and plenty of crabs and other animals which call the mangroves their home’, concluded Janet Ley, stressing the need to keep these incredible and diverse ecosystems.
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