Ecological Mangrove Restoration Workshop Series
Since the December 2004 tsunami, there has been a mounting call for re-establishing protective greenbelts along coastlines. Although the jury is still out on the extent to which mangroves mediate tsunami damage, mangrove forests are proven effective barriers against tropical storms and strong wave action. How effective depends on a number of factors, such as, the density, width, height, and complexity of the mangrove forest, as well as the bathymetry of the coastline and other oceanographic factors. What is more clearly understood is that mangroves provide many benefits to coastal populations in terms of economic goods and ecological services, such as, fisheries production, medicinal use, wastewater treatment, provision of building materials, bird and mammal habitat, eco-tourism value, etc. Mangrove forests are valuable ecosystems which are currently extremely undervalued and they require long-term protection and conservation.
Much of the post-tsunami effort to restore coastal greenbelts involved simple planting of mangrove seedlings and propagules. Already, there have been numerous failures due to planting of inappropriate species, in inappropriate locations, but in general failure occurs due to a lack of understanding of the restoration site itself. What was its history? What mangroves grew there? Where did they grow? What were their hydrological requirements? How deep was the substrate in which they grew? What were the fresh water inputs to the area? Where did exchange of tidal and sea water take place? Contrary to popular belief mangroves require some freshwater to grow well, and they are submerged only around 33% of the time. Planting mangroves along an exposed coastline, in too deep water without fresh water input is a recipe for failure.
Much money was spent after the tsunami in developing mangrove seedling nurseries while little money or time was put into determining the site-specific needs of mangroves at each restoration location. The resulting failure of many restoration projects is discouraging to all parties involved, not least the local communities which need positive encouragement to restore and protect mangroves, rather than discouragement over project failure. We need a more holistic approach to mangrove restoration, based on ecological mangrove principles, which involves local stakeholders in planning, implementation and monitoring, working with (not against) nature by encouraging natural regeneration and planting mangroves only for very specified reasons where natural propagules are not available.
Mangrove Action Project together with Sewalanka Foundation facilitated two workshops entitled, “Community Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration Training” in order to address the above issues. These hands-on workshops were designed so that local mangrove restoration practitioners, local NGOs and community members could actively participate in learning the basic principles of ecological mangrove restoration (EMR) techniques. MAP firmly believes only such a long-term, holistic approach to mangrove restoration will effectively (in terms of cost as well as ecological success) rehabilitate mangrove forests to the point where humans and mangroves can benefit from one another’s care and provender.