What are Mangroves?
Mangroves are trees or shrubs that grow in tropical, subtropical and intertidal zones. These forests serve as transition areas between marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Although they account for less than 1% of the world’s tropical forests, they span 128 nations, with nearly 42% of cover in Indonesia, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria.
Mangroves are unique and productive ecosystems that house colossal economic and societal value. Agenda 2030 aims to unite governments, businesses and communities to eliminate poverty, improve lives, create opportunities and protect the planet. Advancing mangrove conservation and restoration efforts can play a big role in achieving these global goals. The ecosystem services rendered by mangroves directly address 6 out of 17 goals.
Mangroves as Natural Assets
Coastal Risk Reduction: The dense tree cover along the shoreline serves as a safety net for inhabitants. They reduce wave damage, safeguard against storm surges and high wind speeds, contain tsunami damage, reduce sediment losses and erosion, and address sea level rise by building soils. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, researchers and governments focused on exploring nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction. The studies highlighted that the mangrove cover cushioned villages from the tsunami’s impact. Dense mangrove belts can reduce the height of tsunami waves by 5-30%. Mangroves help protect businesses and individuals against property or livelihood damage.
Carbon Sequestration: While mangroves form 1% of carbon sequestered by global forests, they account for 14% of carbon globally sequestered by the oceans. Nearly 32 million tons of carbon is sequestered by them every year. Restoring deforested mangroves would add 380 million tons of carbon over 20 years. Since mangroves are carbon powerhouses, their destruction could result in the release of large amounts of CO2, adding to the growing concern about climate change. Mangrove clearance added as much as 317 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2012.
Marine Biodiversity: Mangroves take center stage in the marine food chain. The breakdown of falling leaves into simpler compounds initiates the detrital food chain and the complex habitat structure allows mangroves to act as nurturing grounds for juvenile fish due to food availability and protect them from predators. They also support rainbow parrotfish and goliath grouper, two widespread fish species listed on IUCN Red List of Threatened species.
Economic Value Addition: Mangroves are instrumental in providing food security and livelihoods to local communities. They also play a pivotal role in the production of seafood. More than 200 million people live near mangroves. Artisanal fishers can generate 100-1,000 kg of fish per hectare, while some high-value species can fetch up to $10,000 per hectare per day. In addition to fishing, people collect fuelwood and honey from the mangrove forests. Though mangrove ecosystem services support aquaculture, rapid expansion threatens their habitat. Between 2000 and 2016, land conversion to agriculture and aquaculture resulted in 62% of losses to the mangrove cover. Mangroves are also a significant tourist attraction across the globe. They contribute $1 billion annually to the Florida economy alone.
Bringing Mangrove Conservation into the Mainstream
An estimated $722-967 billion of funding is required for global biodiversity conservation by 2030 to preserve existing protected areas, ensure sustainable management of land/seascapes and integrate biodiversity into the urban environment. As of 2019, $124-143 billion was spent annually, resulting in a shortfall of $598-824 billion. While governments will lead by providing regulatory frameworks, economic incentives and market structures, private firms must step in to bolster their efforts. Natural infrastructure financing ($26.9 billion, 289.2%), green financial products ($3.8-6.3 billion, 390.47%), nature-based solutions and carbon markets ($0.8-1.4 billion, 1,678.57%), and sustainable supply chains ($5.5-8.2 billion, 50%) are some of the most powerful instruments that can provide such investments. What next?
- Mangroves offer immense potential in terms of accelerating organizational net-zero carbon commitments. Firm-wide decarbonization efforts can be coupled with mangrove restoration and conservation to generate carbon offsets.
- Ecosystem-based adaptation goes beyond mere GHG emissions reduction. We can adopt a multi-pronged approach by recognizing all the benefits like flood control, biodiversity conservation, regulation of water contaminants and supporting local communities.
- With evolving carbon markets, companies can leverage the value generated through blue carbon investments. Strategic nature-based investments would build long-term resilience against climate risks and save costs.
- Lack of data pertaining to biodiversity changes can be tackled by integrating restoration targets into organizational ESG performance. This would help build industry-wide data networks to monitor our environmental impact.