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Mangrove campaigners battle to save the ‘roots of the sea’

“Mangroves sustain the people who sustain the mangroves”

~Pisit Charnsnah, the founder and director of Thailand’s Yadfon Foundation


This is an article written by Alfredo Quardo, the executive director of Mangrove Action Project (MAP). He remind the public on the important of mangrove. He mentioned how the mangrove benefits the people and how the mangrove was deforested in more rapid way than other ecosystem. He also witness in person on the illegal destruction of these precious ecosystem took place in a declared Ramar site.

He ends with a positive notes cited the co-operation between various NGOs, as well as the exciting news of Sri Lanka’s plan on giving mangrove full protection.

You can read the full article here.

Ecological Mangrove Rehabilitation Seminar by Ben Brown

On Friday (2nd February 2012), mangrove enthusiasts in Singapore gathered in Earth Lab, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore to attend Benjamin “Ben” Brown’s talk titled “Ecological mangrove rehabilitation – principles and case studies from Florida and Indonesia”.  The talk was hosted by Prof. Dan Friess a.k.a. Mangrove Man himself.

Introducing Dr. Ben Brown!

The audience (full house, by the way!) enthralled by Ben's seminar

Who is Ben Brown? Here is a brief introduction of Ben- he is  the Director of Mangrove Action Project (MAP) Indonesia. Hailing from Ann Arbor,Michigan,  Brown has been involved in coastal environmental education and community awareness for almost 20 years. Read more about  Ben here.

What is Mangrove Action Project (MAP)? It is a non-governmental organization which focuses on  conservation  and restoration of  mangrove forest (and other coastal ecoystems) worldwide while promoting community-based sustainable management of mangroves. MAP has several  regional offices in the U.S. and in some Asian countries, of which Ben is heading its regional office in Indonesia.

Ben telling the audience about programmes carried out of MAP Indonesia

The overall message of Ben’s seminar was to highlight the importance of understanding the ecology of mangrove establishment and mangrove geomorphology prior to mangrove restoration for  successful and cost-effective restoration of mangroves.

Here below are some highlights of the seminar:

Mangroves are losing out to human kind

They are being destroyed for multiple purposes mainly unsustainable developments including shrimp aquaculture (shrimp ponds), charcoal production and logging, oil exploration and extraction, tourism and urbanization and urban expansion. Shrimp aquaculture is the biggest threat to mangroves of Indonesia.

Blocking water bodies = mangrove death!

Mangrove death may occur when nearby mangrove areas are altered without the knowledge of hydrology, especially modification of tidal creeks or water bodies that support the vegetation area. From various case studies  pointed out in the talk, the blockage or damming of creek (e.g. dykes to prevent influx of saltwater into coconut plantations or isolation of shrimp ponds) have resulted in mangrove death by exposure of  hypersaline water (no input of freshwater) or erosion (loss of sedimentation input). MAP reinstates the flow of water i.e. the connectivity of freshwater and saltwater inputs in mangroves by drilling holes through the man-made dykes. Hydrology reinstalled!

Natural regeneration of mangroves seen after solving hydrological issues of a mangrove

Mangroves can be uplifted by the tsunami, if not destroyed!

Even mangroves may not survive from after-effects of a tsunami. Indian Ocean Tsunami in Year 2004 raised up elevation of coral reefs and mangrove areas in Acheh. This has lead to massive coral death (and bleaching) due to prolonged emersion/exposure to air and drying out of mangroves. Mangroves at higher elevations are now competing with terrestrial forests for space and survival. Even if the mangroves survive, their propagules will not be dispersed (due to little the no-longer existence of sea flooding for dispersal) nor established (due to the change in soil properties for e.g. soil type, temperature and soil moisture).

Mangrove survival depends on its flooding properties

-Mangroves establishment is highly dependent on frequency of its  inundation/flooding and inundation range, which in turn dependent on surface elevation (high, medium and low elevations).

Ben showing the inundation frequencies play a vital role in determining a mangrove survivability

-The knowledge of the surface elevation allow distinction of inundation zones within a mangrove, of which, mangrove species are selective towards specific inundation zones which they thrive in. For e.g., Avicennia spp. are pioneer species in Southeast Asian mangroves and would normally be found on low surface elevation/more frequently inundated zones.

Hmmh,  where I shall plant mangroves?

Ben also highlighted another mistake of other mangrove restoration projects. Most mangroves do not grow at low elevation i.e. below mean sea level. Although mangroves have the ability to tolerate lack of oxygen, prolonged lengths of water immersion (which may lead to accumulation of hydrogen sulfide toxicity) does not bode well for them, particular that of seedlings (young plants). Hence mangrove replanting  by other parties are often not successful as seedlings are planted at low elevation mangrove sites.

Planting Grass for Mangrove Restoration?

-Mangrove restoration at certain areas can be carried out with grass on bare grounds to assist natural mangrove recruitment when mangrove propagules are trapped by the grass. The grass will be removed eventually after the seedlings have grown.

Mangrove Restoration without replanting them. How?

-MAP approaches  mangrove restoration through  basic natural processes i.e. termed ecological mangrove restoration (EMR). Therefore,  contrary  to other mangrove restoration organizations, MAP does not implement nor advocate mangrove planting; the organization believes in natural establishment of mangroves from existing mangrove plants in a degraded site.

Therefore, it focuses to revert the modified topography and hydrology of a site to its natural conditions (prior to the modification) which in turn allows natural regrowth or succession of mangrove plants. This approach is more cost-saving (because mangrove propagules do not come cheap!) and  growth rate of planted mangroves  is slower than natural growth itself.

-A more detailed step-wise approach on EMR are simplified as below :-

    1. Understand the biology i.e. characteristics of  individual mangrove (tree or shrub) species and  their communities, especially that of reproduction patterns, distribution ranges and  seedling establishment;
    2. Understand the normal hydrology that controls the distribution and successful establishment and growth of targeted mangrove species;
    3. Assess the severity of the modified of the mangrove and  the causes that currently prevent natural regrowth of mangrove species i.e. natural secondary succession;
    4. Select appropriate restoration areas through application of Steps 1-3, that are both likely to succeed in rehabilitating a forest ecosystem and are cost effective. This includes recruitment of  labor to carry out the projects, including adequate monitoring of their progress and resolving land ownership/use issues necessary for ensuring long-term access to and conservation of the site;
    5. Design the restoration program and utilize natural volunteer mangrove recruitment for natural plant establishment and long-term assessment for the mangrove site.

    Read in more detail about EMR here.

Communities awareness and involvement in mangrove restoration and conservation

Ben ended his talk with by mentioning several approaches that have been conducted by MAP to raise awareness within the local community and get them involved in mangrove restoration, monitoring and conservation projects . In Indonesia, there is a need to convince locals to stop conversion of mangroves into shrimp ponds since they are regarded as short-term cash cows. Therefore, incentives are given to locals to convince them on keeping mangroves for the more valuable profits gained from its ecosystem services. Mangrove-based products and recipes are being introduced to locals.

Several examples of mangrove products made from mangrove plants

Woman groups are also  involved in monitoring mangrove restoration sites.

....including Acanthus (sea holly) tea!!!

After the talk, there were multiple discussions/chatter on-going among the mangrove enthusiasts from different walks of life-all hyped for future mangrove plans in Singapore!

Ria Tan (Wild Singapore & Intertidal Queen) engaging in a conservation with two NParks mangrove officers

Jeffrey Low(NParks), Huiying (Nparks), Wei Kit the Mangrove Warrior and Dr. Jean Yong having a great discussion on mangroves!

Sivasothi a.k.a. Otterman talking to Dr. Ben Brown after the inspiring talk!

Kudos to Mangrove Man for being a great host!

In summary, the seminar was very informative and the multiple case studies in the seminar highlighted the efforts made by Ben, Iona and his MAP team. Kudos to MAP Indonesia! Terima Kasih (Thank you in Indonesian and Malay) Ben for the your inspiring talk and best wishes for MAP Indonesia from Mangrove Action Squad!