Mangroves are among the world’s most dynamic ecosystems. They protect coastlines from erosion and extreme weather while filtering nutrients and sediments out of water, helping ensure food security for local communities. They are also major stores of planet-warming carbon and provide critical habitats for a wide variety of plants and animals.
Mangroves are vital to sustaining global biodiversity with over 1,500 plant and animal species depending on them. Their unique root systems act like a nursery for many breeds of birds, fish and crustaceans, while protecting eggs from predators and the elements.
UNEP research shows that mangrove ecosystems underpin global and local economies by supporting fisheries, providing other food sources and protecting coastlines. In fact, every hectare of mangrove forest creates up to US$57,000 in ecosystem services, which are the benefits the natural world provides to humans.
However, around the world, mangroves are under increasing threat. They are being destroyed at rates three to five times greater than average rates of forest loss. Over a quarter of the world’s original mangrove cover has already disappeared.
To complicate matters, mangroves grow slowly. It takes over 12 years for a restored forest to begin to function like a natural one. Restoration, while costly, can be effective when an ecosystem has been altered to such an extent that natural regeneration is practically impossible without human intervention.
“It just highlights that we should not degrade the mangroves because it will take a lot of time to get the ecological services back,” said Célia Macamo an ecologist at Eduardo Mondlane University.
Macamo works on the mangrove restoration project, which combines a traditional model of planting and cultivating mangrove seedlings with an innovative technique that uses hydrological restoration to speed up the usually slow process of regrowing mangroves.
“Essentially, you open channels inside the forest, allowing seawater to come in with seedling seeds and propagate and that will help accelerate bringing back the natural conditions of the forest,” explained Macamo.
Since the start of this project in 2019, 38 hectares of mangrove forests in have been restored. About 1,000 people, including fishers, women and students, in the area have benefited from the project.
“We are very happy with this mangrove restoration because it breaks the wind and allows fish to reproduce,” said local fisher Chavele while he cleaned his nets after a morning of fishing. “Prawns for example, they reproduce better in the mangrove, so we would like the mangrove restoration to continue.”
Fishers have noticed improved fishing conditions along the Limpopo River estuary since the restoration of mangrove forests. UNEP/ Artan Jama
UNEP and the Global Environment Facility have partnered together on the Mangrove Restoration and Livelihood Support through Community Participation in Limpopo River Estuary project. It falls under the banner of the Implementation of the Strategic Action Programme for the Protection of the Western Indian Ocean from Land-Based Sources and Activities and is executed by the Nairobi Convention.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.