Today (July 26) is UNESCO’s International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem. In other words, it’s World Mangrove Day!
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova notes:
Coastal mangroves are among the most threatened ecosystems on earth. Current estimates indicate that up to 67% of mangroves have been lost to date, and nearly all unprotected mangroves could perish over the next 100 years.
The stakes are high, because mangrove ecosystems provide benefits and services that are essential for life. From advancing food security, sustaining fisheries and forest products and offering protection from storms, tsunamis and sea level rise to preventing shoreline erosion, regulating coastal water quality and providing habitats for endangered marine species — the list is long on the importance of mangrove ecosystems. This includes the unique role that they play in sequestering and storing significant amounts of coastal blue carbon from the atmosphere and ocean, crucial for mitigating climate change.
These special ecosystems around our coasts also store what is called Blue Carbon – along with seagrass beds and salt marshes. Here in Jamaica, we have all three. The carbon that is stored and trapped in coastal soils – in those muddy, squelchy areas between the mangrove roots – can be extensive and remain there for centuries, resulting in huge carbon stocks. In fact, total carbon deposits per square kilometre in coastal ecosystems may be up to five times the carbon stored in tropical forests, scientists suggest. So, if these systems are destroyed and mangroves cut down, there is a significant emission of carbon into the atmosphere. Not good in the climate change scheme of things, at all. We need to keep that blue carbon intact.
Our Forestry Department tells us that wetlands in Jamaica (only two per cent of our land cover) are threatened by over-exploitation of their resources (cutting of the trees for yam sticks, firewood etc) and by construction projects, especially in housing and in tourism (one cannot forget the prolonged court battle beginning in 2005 between environmental groups, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) over the planned Gran Bahia Principe hotel in Pear Tree Bottom on the north coast).
There are four designated sites under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Jamaica. These are the Black River Lower Morass (1997), Palisadoes–Port Royal Protected Area (2005), the Portland Bight Wetlands and Cays (2006) and Mason River Protected Area (2011). All of these areas face a number of challenges: pollution, including solid waste – like Refuge Cay in the Palisadoes mangrove system – and deforestation for agriculture (often unsustainable subsistence farming) and for housing. All of this is quite apart from the steadily creeping impact of climate change.
What else do we know for sure about mangrove systems? They shield our fragile coastlines from battering storms and reduce inland flooding. They act as a pollution “filter,” ensuring healthier oceans. Their sheltering branches serve as nurseries for baby fish, crustaceans such as lobster, oysters and more. They are little havens for biodiversity – marine life, birds (oh, and our protected American Crocodiles). And to me, they have their own strange beauty: that extraordinary rust-brown of the water, with many other colours mixed in; the filtered sunlight between the branches; the tangle of roots beneath, and the majestic towering roots of the taller mangroves. What’s not to love?
To celebrate our mangroves, here is a little picture gallery from home and abroad…