By Phillip Da Silva, BSc, MSc
Published: June 5, 2021 • World Environment Day 2021
The time may be right to collectively re-evaluate how we perceive mangroves and the goods and services they provide.
Phillip Da Silva ✉️, Division of Natural Sciences, University of Guyana – Berbice Campus.
This essay is part of a series by the University of Guyana, Department of Environmental Studies on the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. It was first published in the Guyana Chronicle on World Environment Day (June 5, 2021).
Located in tropical and subtropical intertidal zones, mangrove wetlands have important chemical, physical, and biological connections with other coastal ecosystems. Mangroves support important ecosystem services, unique faunal and floral species, human populations, and associated livelihoods.
Over the years, the use of the resources provided by mangrove ecosystems has increased and as a result so too has the scope and nature of impacts experienced by them. Among the main factors responsible for the increased impacts are the dynamic nature of the coastal environment, rising sea levels, illegal removal, and coastal erosion. These often drive ecological and landscape degradation and increase the challenge for sustainable management.
Although mangrove restoration has been receiving much attention, it is important to understand the reason for the degradation and or loss of the mangroves and there are many factors that need to be considered if restoration is to be successful. Some factors identified as necessary include soil stability, flooding regime, site elevation, hydrological regime, availability of planting propagules, predation of propagules, planting mechanics, and monitoring. However, what is obvious is that there is no single fix for every restoration site. Local environmental conditions, the species to be planted, and local hydrological regimes are important considerations, and the advantages and disadvantages associated with any potential approach must be weighed before a decision is taken.
Coastal protection is an important need in Guyana and given the role mangroves play in this process, it may have catalysed the first introduction of mangrove restoration in 2010 under the Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project by the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI). Mangrove restoration and management were fully integrated into the work program of NAREI in 2014 and now forms a key part of Guyana’s approach to cost-effective, natural sea defence and climate change mitigation strategy.
Among the key initiatives implemented, with varying degrees of success, are education and awareness programmes, planting of mangrove seedlings, planting of Spartina grass, and the innovative application of the concept of groynes for coastal protection made from geotextile tube, bamboo brushwood dams, and rubble mounds. These have helped in restoring coastal mangrove forests by trapping sediments, reducing sediment loss to the marine environment, increasing coastal elevation, consolidating soil, and trapping mangrove seeds and propagules.
As we reflect on the theme for World Environment Day 2021, it is useful to remember that ecosystem restoration, which involves the recovery of degraded ecosystems, should also aim to conserve intact ecosystems, and people are integral in this process.
In Guyana, as we struggle to reconcile development and environmental goals, our natural and restored coastal mangroves have become pawns in the process. The time may be right to collectively re-evaluate how we perceive mangroves and the goods and services they provide. We may choose to allow such introspection to inform our attitudes towards mangroves while allowing us to make decisions that enhance long-term benefits and avoid conflicts among stakeholders.
This essay is part of a University of Guyana series in observance of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.