Coastal mangrove forests help protect communities and habitats from storm surges, but sea-level rise could wipe them out –Climate Change is killing mangroves –the most effected mangroves are the one’s in Pakistan’s province of Sindh and in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans forest area, to name two of the South Asian countries which are located on the Arabian Sea and on the Indian Ocean respectively. Both countries fall within the highest global pollution envelop including India in South Asia.
The Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest of which more than half lies in Bangladesh and rest in India in the Bay of Bengal, once again acted as a natural barrier protecting the country from the worst effects of the recent Cyclone Yaas, as it has done countless times before. It bore the brunt of Yaas at a heavy cost. “It takes usually 25 years for a forest to get back to its previous state after a calamity but Sundarbans hardly gets the time as such cyclones have become more frequent in recent years,” said Dr Mahmud Hossain, researcher and vice-chancellor of Khulna University.
“Therefore the magic bullet against climate change is the protection and growth of mangrove,” says a South Asia environmental expert.
It’s a fight that’s well worth the time and effort: That’s because mangroves are a valuable weapon in the fight against climate change.
“By surface area, mangroves store four to five times more carbon than conventional forests,” explains Dorotee Herr, who’s head of the oceans and climate change division at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The trees, which have the rare ability to grow in salt water, store carbon dioxide in sediment, explains Herr. “They have sediment deposits that are meters thick in some cases,” she explains.
This trait makes mangrove forests particularly prized as a highly effective nature-based solution to fight against global warming.
However, these unique trees are endangered: According to an IUCN report, mangroves have been cut down faster than any other forest species in the last half century. Since 1996, the global area covered by mangrove forests, about 146,000sq km, has decreased by about 6.6%, according to the report. This is largely due to mangrove forests – which are found in almost all warm coastal regions – being converted into farmland or ponds for aquaculture or by encroachment or lost due to marine pollution, erosion due to climate change effects on sea levels.
More than 200,000 acre forest lands in Sindh were reportedly encroached in riverine area of the Indus –the authorities seek forest cover for them after the encroached tracts were vacated.
Efforts are being made to promote mangroves, urban forest and farm forestry in the province –forest schemes at regional level are being prepared.
“Climate change is a regional issue and it has also taken a step up toward being a matter of national security,” a security analyst says.
Beyond storing carbon dioxide, mangroves also have many other advantages, bringing tangible benefits to the residents in such areas.
They protect against coastal erosion as well as possible future effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels. Mangroves also help provide better water quality and are home to many different types of marine life.
“We know that when you interfere with the mangroves, you also interfere with the fish,” the environmental expert says.
A project to protect the mangroves along South Asian coastlines can be financed by carbon credits bought by the States, firms and people living in Sindh (Pakistan) and in Khulna (Bangladesh). Cities along India’s coastline in Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal can do the same. Their problem is larger, however, Sindh and Khulna stand out in the rate of depletion of their mangroves.
“Understanding the connection between rivers and oceans, is the starting point”, the expert says.
With input from Irshad Salim, Islamabad and Khokon, Khulna