Young mangroves in Tanzania’s Rufiji Delta. Photo by the Nairobi Convention

BY United Nations Environment Programme

In the lead up to International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem on 26 July, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is running a series of stories on mangroves, and their impact on the environment and economies of countries across the world.

For many of the 30,000 people who live in the remote Rufiji Delta of northern Tanzania, life revolves around one thing: mangroves.

These trees and bushes, which thrive in the delta’s brackish water, are sources of building materials, firewood and income, providing valuable timber that residents often sell to make ends meet.

But the mangroves, which are also home to many species, like ray fish, hongwe, migratory birds and sea turtles, are sometimes seen as obstacles to be cut down, occupying land that can be used to grow rice and graze livestock. Such over-dependence on mangroves in the Rufiji Delta, home to 50 per cent of Tanzania’s mangroves, has led to a depletion of these forests, threatening residentsway of life.

A new project is aiming to reverse that trend and encourage the sustainable management of the deltas mangroves. The initiative is being led by the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) of Tanzania in partnership with the Tanzania Forest Service, Wetlands International, the Kibiti District Council, and the Pakaya Culture and Environment Group. 

It will see officials and local communities work together to develop a plan to manage the mangrove forests, setting rules on where and when trees can be harvested. The models will also test approaches for restoring areas that have already been impacted by development, which will help delta residents enjoy the benefits of mangroves into the future. Their restoration efforts will be complemented by the Guidelines on Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration in the Western Indian Ocean Region, a new publication from the Nairobi Convention and partners that provides a step-by-step guide on how to build successful restoration projects and avoid common replanting pitfalls. 

Man standing next to a mangrove sapling
A man checks a mangrove sapling at a reforestation project site supported by UNEP in the Kisakasaka community in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Photo: UNEP / Hannah McNeish

“Mangroves store more than five times more carbon than terrestrial forests.

Jared Bosire, Project Manager, United Nations Environment Programme Mangroves, trees that thrive in salt water and are found on coastlines in warmer regions throughout the world, underpin some of the most productive ecosystems on earth. Not only do they provide nursery areas for fish, crustaceans and many endangered speciesbut they also protect shorelines from eroding, shielding humans from flooding, hurricanes and other storms. Globally, some experts estimate that up to 55 per cent of mangroves have been lost since the 1990s.

Along with protecting a vibrant ecosystem, the Rufiji Delta project will help Tanzania in meeting its commitments under various Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 14 on Life Below Water and Goal 13 on climate action, said Jared Bosire, Project Manager with the United Nations Environment Programmes Regional Seas Programme.

Of critical importance, say, experts, is the active role local communities will play in the project, particularly in choosing rehabilitation sites and developing harvesting plans.

I have been involved with many projects over the years that have attempted to reverse the degradation of the mangroves of Rufiji, said Jumani Yusuf Kikumbe, Outgoing Chairperson of the Nyamisati Village Committee. These efforts need to include communities from the beginning in an equitable way if they are to be successful.

IMS and the other project partners hope that lessons from the Rufiji Delta initiative can be applied elsewhere in Tanzania, and even across the entire Western Indian Ocean region where mangroves are under similar pressures.

The initiative is being funded by the Global Environment Facility through the Implementation of the Strategic Action Programme for the Protection of the Western Indian Ocean from Land-Based Sources and Activities, executed by the Nairobi Convention. The convention, part of the United Nations Environment ProgrammeRegional Seas programme, serves as a platform for governments, civil society and the private sector to work together for the sustainable management and use of the Western Indian Oceans marine and coastal environment.

Nature-based solutions offer the best way to achieve human well-being, tackle climate change and protect our living planet. Yet nature is in crisis, as we are losing species at a rate 1,000 times greater than at any other time in recorded human history and one million species face extinction. In addition to important moments for decision makers, including the COP 15 on Biodiversity, the 2020 super year is a major opportunity to bring nature back from the brink. The future of humanity depends on action now.

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 such as the Africa Restoration 100 initiative, the Global Landscapes Forum and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 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. Help us shape the Decade.


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