A CORNUCOPIA OF LIFE
Mangroves are the rainforests by the sea. The majority of the subtropical and tropical coastline is dominated by mangroves, once estimated to cover an area of 36 million hectares. However, over the past several decades, the global area in mangroves has rapidly diminished as a result of a variety of human activities, such as overharvesting, freshwater diversion and conversion to other uses.
Mangrove forests are comprised of taxonomically diverse, salt-tolerant tree and other plant species which thrive in inter-tidal zones of sheltered tropical shores, "overwash" islands, and estuaries. Mangrove trees have specially adapted aerial and salt-filtering roots and salt-excreting leaves that enable them to occupy the saline wetlands where other plant life cannot survive.
Mangrove forests are vital for healthy coastal ecosystems. The forest detritus, consisting mainly of fallen leaves and branches from the mangroves, provides nutrients for the marine environment and supports immense varieties of sea life in intricate food webs associated directly through detritus or indirectly through the planktonic and epiphytic algal food chains. (Note: Plankton and benthic algae are primary sources of carbon in the mangrove ecosystem, in addition to detritus.)
The shallow inter-tidal reaches that characterize the mangrove wetlands offer refuge and nursery grounds for juvenile fish, crabs, shrimps, and mollusks. Mangroves are also prime nesting and migratory sites for hundreds of bird species. In Belize, for instance, there are over 500 species of birds recorded in mangrove areas. Additionally, manatees, crab-eating monkeys, fishing cats, monitor lizards, sea turtles, the Royal Bengal tigers and mud-skipper fish utilize the mangrove wetlands. Many endangered species are native to mangroves.
Mangrove forests literally live in two worlds at once, acting as the interface between land and sea. Mangroves help protect coastlines from erosion, storm damage, and wave action. The stability mangroves provide is of immense importance. They prevent shoreline erosion by acting as buffers and catch alluvial materials, thus stabilizing land elevation by sediment accretion that balances sediment loss. Vital coral reefs and sea grass beds are also protected from damaging salutation.
The protective mangrove buffer zone helps minimize damage of property and losses of life from hurricanes and storms. In regions where these coastal fringe forests have been cleared, tremendous problems of erosion and siltation have arisen, and sometimes terrible losses to human life and property have occurred due to destructive storms. Mangroves have also been useful in treating effluent, as the plants absorb excess nitrates and phosphates thereby preventing contamination of nearshore waters.
THE GREATEST THREATS--AN ECOSYSTEM IN PERIL
Naturally resilient, mangrove forests have withstood severe storms and changing tides for many millennia, but they are now being devastated by modern encroachments. Today, mangrove forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world-- disappearing at an accelerating rate, yet with little public notice.
Today, less than half the world's original mangrove forest cover remains. There are many reasons for their decline, but in general the blame lies with unregulated and unsustainable developments, lack of clear understanding and recognition of the importance of mangrove wetlands, and a clear lack of law enforcement and monitoring to protect these fragile ecosystems from illegal encroachment. Nearly one million hectares of coastal areas, including valuable mangrove forests, have been cleared to make way for the shrimp aquaculture industry. Other unsustainable developments, such as timber and oil extraction, the charcoal and tourism industries, and unchecked urban expansion along the tropical and sub-tropical coasts, are also contributing to extensive tidal wetlands losses worldwide.
To effectively address these critical issues, MAP has taken a dynamically unique three pronged approach to long-term mangrove conservation:
MAP recognizes the great need to empower the local stakeholders to take a "Shore to Reef Approach" to sustainably manage their coastal resources, including the mangrove wetlands, sea grass beds and coral reefs which are vital for healthy and productive coastal marine ecosystems. A first step towards empowerment of these local communities is awareness raising via intensive education regarding the importance of these unique resources which local communities are being asked to conserve.
MAP's Mangrove Curriculum is now being modified and translated into local languages. This nearly 300 page Curriculum which MAP aims to place in the hands of the primary school systems and competently trained teachers from around the world, provides an invaluable tool for education and empowerment of the future decision makers and resource managers of these mangrove wetlands. MAP's Curriculum Based Teacher's Resource Guide is entitled "Marvelous Mangroves In The Cayman Islands." This first edition was completed in 2000 by Martin Keeley, MAP's Education Director. The Curriculum was specifically designed for the flora and fauna relevant to the Cayman Islands where it is now in official use in the primary schools there.
This important work that was written and first published in English, has recently been adapted and translated into Spanish for use in Honduras and Caribbean Colombia. It is also now translated into the two main languages of Sri Lanka. MAP works in conjunction with local ENGOs to adapt, translate and introduce the Curriculum, and establish long-term follow-up and entry into local education systems. MAP seeks further support for additional adaptations of the Curriculum to the tidal forest regions and associated species native to other Countries and for translation for use within their respective school systems in their native languages.
MAP's uniquely pro-active, global network was founded eleven years ago, and now includes over 450 NGOs and 250 academics from 60 nations. MAP is at the leading edge of mangrove forest conservation and related advocacy work. The MAP Quarterly is mailed out to over 2000 associates around the world, and the bi-weekly, electronic Late Friday News goes out to over 2500 e-mail addresses. MAP also acts as a Mangrove Resource Center, featuring information on mangrove conservation and shrimp aquaculture issues. Our services as an Information and Referral Center are widely sought, and our website is receiving nearly 100 visits per day.
B) Regional Offices
MAP is currently strengthening its international networking capabilities by opening up its first regional offices in Thailand and Indonesia. These offices, headed by MAP's SE Asian Coordinator, Jim Enright in Thailand and MAPís Indonesia Coordinator, Ben Brown in Indonesia, will help further expand MAP's networking capabilities in this important region where mangrove forests have been fast disappearing as a direct consequence of industrial shrimp aquaculture expansion and other unsustainable developments. These regional offices will play major roles in future project coordination and will enhance network communications. In the future, MAP plans to open up regional offices in S. Asia, Latin America, and East and West Africa.
C) In The Hands of the Fishers Workshops
Working closely with the Yadfon Association in Thailand and the Small Fishers Federation of Sri Lanka, MAP helped launch what we consider our premier program; In The Hands Of The Fishers (IHOF) workshops. The series of IHOF workshops bring together grassroots NGOs and fisher-folk from developing nations that contain mangroves. These workshops offer an innovative format for information and skill sharing among local stakeholders, while also offering a toolkit of working alternatives to help enhance community based coastal resource management.
Each workshop is designed to facilitate cooperation and idea sharing between NGOs, village leaders and community members to enhance problem solving, skills sharing, and disseminate solutions and research findings among the groups. The workshops are primarily a grounds for interested parties to hear and share experiences, and to form networks of resources and knowledge pools for future work in conservation and sustainable resource management. In addition to the workshops, follow-up projects are undertaken at the participating villages, and these then serve as sites or nodes for modeling sustainable, low-intensity development alternatives. For a list of the "tools" in MAP's "toolkit", please refer to attached appendix A.
D) Community Coastal Resource Centers
Recently (in 2000-present), MAP has partnered with Small Fishers Federation of Chilaw, Sri Lanka (SFFL) and Kelola of N. Sulawesi, Indonesia to establish the first three of its "Coastal Community Resource Centers" (CCRCís). The centers are used to house information and provide a conference/study center, where researchers, community groups and coastal village leaders can gather or access information and attend workshops designed to facilitate knowledge-sharing concerning tidal forests. These centers have been well received by both the Sri Lankan and Indonesian governments and local NGOs are eager to learn and share strategies for sustainable conservation of coastal environs. The centers, dedicated to the conservation and protection of mangrove forests, are also important resources for related groups concerned with marine flora & fauna, such as sea grasses and coral reefs, involving other environmental and conservation groups concerned about the loss of these areas.
MAP welcomes this "cross-pollination" of ideas and is proud to be part of the solution. Consequently, MAP has access to a vast resource of scientific research, practical conservation applications and local community expertise. MAP has set an ambitious goal of establishing one to two new CCRCs per year for the next 6 years, finding much interest from among many partnering NGOs from such countries as Honduras, Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Senegal.
These centers might be likened to "acupressure points" established at key locations around the world to bring a restorative effect on a global scale. MAP has established a highly qualified and competent network of affiliations with research scientists, NGOs and community leaders to successfully implement these centers.
A) A New Carribean Focus
Mangrove Action Project (MAP), in partnership with several Caribbean non-governmental organizations, is working towards a program of restoration of degraded mangrove forests in the Caribbean region which can serve as demonstration projects for other restoration efforts throughout the world. MAP will train a group of restoration experts to investigate several sites throughout the Caribbean and select suitable locations for the restoration program.
MAP recognizes the Caribbean as one of the top five leading hotspots of biodiversity in terms of the number of endemic species and extent to which they are threatened. It is estimated that 44% of all species of vascular plants and 35% of all species in four vertebrate groups are confined to 25 hotspots comprising only 1.4% of the land surface of the Earth. In the Caribbean, it is estimated that only 13% of its primary vegetation remains.The coastal zones being considered include: Belize (Turneffe Atoll), Puerto Rico (Jobos Bay), Dominican Republic (Isla Saona) Puerto Morelas, Mexico, Jamaica (Montego Bay) and the Islands of St.Kitts and St. Martins. MAP is also considering sites in Florida, such as Rookery Bay, South of Naples, FL.
To launch this new restoration program, MAP is now forming and training a team of restoration ecologists, led by Dr. Robin Lewis, who is a mangrove expert with over 30 years of international mangrove restoration experience, He has joined MAP's steering committee and technical advisory board. Michele Laubenheimer, MSc. and Dr. Perry Gayaldo, who are both restoration ecologists, have also joined MAPís Restoration Team, as well as Indonesian mangrove expert, Rignolda Djamaluddin.
Under the expert guidance of Robin Lewis, MAP is implementing an innovative approach involving the restoration of the areaís natural hydrology. Getting away from capital and labor intensive direct seedling planting by hand, MAP is applying a broader, less expensive and more effective restorative technique. Restoring an areaís natural hydrology will allow Nature itself to restore the mangroves via tidal ebbs and flows carrying the mangrove seeds for natural regeneration of more bio-diverse and healthy forest wetlands.
It is estimated today that there are over 250,000 ha of abandoned shrimp ponds found in Asia and Latin America's mangrove forest zones. MAP hopes to help demonstrate hydrological restoration as an alternative model so that it will be adopted by governments and NGOs alike to help restore the present extensive areas of abandoned shrimp ponds quicker and more economically than planting alone would ever accomplish.
B) Eco-Study/Work Tours
MAP has successfully led small-scale, international volunteer teams on work/ eco-study tours in Ecuador, Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. These tours have raised public awareness locally as well as internationally on the importance of mangrove forests for both marine life and local communities.
MAP action plan
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