Sri Lanka’s Comprehensive Mangrove Protection Project

Last month Sri Lanka announced a scheme to protect all of its mangrove forests. This pioneering project, which also includes replanting nearly 4,000 hectares of mangrove, makes Sri Lanka first country in the world to provide such comprehensive protection.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said: “It is the responsibility and the necessity of all government institutions, private institutions, non-government organisations, researchers, intelligentsia and civil community to be united to protect the mangrove ecosystem.”

Magroves in Sri Lanka. Photo Credit: Teng Wei
Magroves in Sri Lanka. Photo Credit: Teng Wei

Mangrove Forests and Resilient Coastlines

Mangroves are salt-tolerant evergreens that grow along coastlines, rivers and deltas, found in more than 120 tropical and subtropical nations. Mangrove forests are vitally important for several reasons. They sequester carbon better than many other types of forests and thus play an important role in ameliorating climate change. Their root systems serve as nurseries for many species of fish that go on to populate coral reefs.

Mangrove forests also provide a key buffer along coastlines, greatly decreasing damage caused by tsunamis, storm surge and hurricanes. A study by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) earlier this year reinforced the idea that natural infrastructure such as mangroves, can help protect coastal areas from floods and coastal erosion.

Shrimp Farming and Mangrove Destruction

Despite their environmental importance and significant role in flood and storm protection, mangroves are under threat worldwide. It is estimated that in the last 100 years, over half of the world’s mangroves have been lost and continue to be destroyed at a rate of about one percent per year.

During the Lima climate conference in December 2014, a report by UNEP found that mangrove forests are being cleared 3-5 times faster than terrestrial forests, costing the world as much as $42 billion in economic damages every year.

An earlier UN report, published in November 2012, warned that the spread of shrimp and fish farms is one of the main factors in mangrove forest destruction.

Sri Lanka’s Mangrove Protection Project

The project is a partnership between the Sri Lankan government, Seacology, and Sudeesa, a Sri Lankan organisation for small-scale fishers and farmers.

The scheme will cost US $3.4m over five years and aims to protect all 8,815 hectares (21,782 acres) of existing mangrove forests in Sri Lanka.

It will provide alternative job training and microloans to 15,000 impoverished women who live in 1,500 small communities adjacent to this nation’s mangrove forests. In exchange for receiving these microloans to start-up small businesses, all 1,500 communities will be responsible for protecting an average of 21 acres of mangrove forest.

The project also involves the development of mangrove nurseries to aid the replanting 3,885 hectares (9,600 acres) of mangrove forests that have previously been cut down.

Mangrove nursery in Sri Lanka. Photo: Sudeesa
Mangrove nursery in Sri Lanka. Photo: Sudeesa

A first-of-its kind mangrove museum to educate the public about the importance of preserving this resource will also be constructed as part of this project.

Seacology executive director Duane Silverstein emphasised the benefits of the scheme in providing protection for coastal communities against floods, storms and tsunamis.

“After the 2004 (Indian Ocean) tsunami, it became evident – particularly in Sri Lanka which was severely impacted – that those villages that had intact mangroves suffered significantly less damage than those that did not”.

A Model for Other Countries

Mr Silverstein said the pioneering framework had “extreme importance as a model” that could be used throughout the world, and hoped the Sri Lanka protection model would be adopted by other nations.

“We absolutely believe that Sri Lanka’s mangrove model will serve as a model for other nations to follow.”

For more about the project, see Seacology here, and Sudeesa here.