Mangroves, the awe-inspiring coastal forests thriving in tropical and subtropical intertidal zones, hold a prominent position as the world’s most productive ecosystems. These remarkable habitats form a crucial link between land and sea, offering a plethora of benefits to both the environment and communities. From ensuring food security and supporting diverse biodiversity to providing valuable timber, defending against coastal erosion, and serving as natural cyclone shelters and tsunami dissipators, mangroves stand as nature’s green guardians on India’s coastlines.
A Magnificent Natural Carbon Sink : Storing 200 Mn Tonnes of Carbon per 1% of Cover
Mangroves have emerged as one of the planet’s most efficient natural carbon sinks, capable of storing vast amounts of carbon and preventing its release into the atmosphere. These coastal forests exhibit exceptional carbon sequestration potential, contributing significantly to mitigating the impacts of climate change, such as storm surges and rising sea levels.
Moreover, mangroves make a substantial economic impact, contributing between US$33-57 thousand per hectare per year to the national economies of developing countries, according to UNEP. In India alone, mangroves cover 4,975 sq km, constituting 3% of the global mangrove forest area and 8% of Asia’s mangrove forest area, with the Bay of Bengal holding around 60% of these forests, the Arabian Sea 27%, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands containing the remaining 13%.
Guardians of Biodiversity and Livelihoods
Beyond their ecological importance, mangrove forests are vital habitats for more than 75% of commercially important fish species, supporting the livelihoods of over 100 million people, as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. These coastal ecosystems also serve as critical breeding grounds for endangered species like sea turtles, migratory birds and even a “mangrove tiger” in India, demonstrating their significance in maintaining diverse marine life.
The value of mangroves’ ecosystem services is estimated to be approximately USD 194,000 per hectare, as indicated by Barbier et al.’s research in 2011. Regrettably, these green guardians face a host of threats, leading to their decline in many regions across the globe. Alarming statistics show that for every one percent of mangrove loss, a staggering 200 million tonnes of carbon, once trapped in mangroves, is released into the atmosphere.
In India, the country has lost approximately 40% of its mangroves due to factors such as urbanization, pollution, and unsustainable practices. Globally, mangrove cover has decreased by an estimated 35% since the 1980s.
Faced with the Triple Threat
Humans cause 60% of mangrove loss, according to the Global Mangrove Alliance (GMA) 2021 report. The lethal combination of global warming, resulting in the melting of polar ice caps and rising sea levels, along with the degradation of mangroves and extreme weather events, subjects these coastal forests to unprecedented pressure. To counter these challenges, conservation and restoration efforts are of paramount importance in the face of climate change.
The Dire Consequences of Mangrove Loss
The decline of mangroves has grave implications for ecosystems and exacerbates climate change. Loss of these vital habitats disrupts the delicate ecological balance, leading to a decline in biodiversity and negatively impacting fisheries and local livelihoods. Moreover, the reduced capacity of mangroves to sequester carbon can contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions, further intensifying climate change. Additionally, the absence of mangroves increases the vulnerability of coastal areas to erosion, storms, and tidal surges, putting nearby communities at greater risk, making mangrove restoration an essential measure to mitigate these consequences.
Mangroves as Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Assets
Mangroves possess extraordinary capabilities in adapting to and mitigating climate change. Their ability to sequester and store carbon dioxide at rates up to four times higher than other tropical forests, as indicated by Alongi et al.’s research in 2015, makes them valuable tools in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating global warming. Furthermore, their intricate root systems act as natural buffers, providing protection to coastlines from storm surges, cyclones, erosion, and the impacts of rising sea levels.
The resilience of mangroves during climate-related disasters has been demonstrated, as evidenced by the reduced casualties and damage in areas with intact mangrove forests during the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, according to a study published in the journal Science in Oct 2005. Employing nature-based solutions such as mangrove ecosystem restoration, sea grass and coral reef rehabilitation, and salt marsh conservation not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also enhances resilience to climate change.
Mangrove Conservation and Restoration Efforts in India: Significance and Challenges
Mangroves are critical ecosystems providing numerous ecological benefits, including coastal protection, carbon sequestration, and diverse species habitats. The UNFCCC COP27 set a goal to protect 15 million hectares of mangroves by 2030. This plan aims to stop mangrove loss, restore lost areas, increase protection efforts, and secure financing for existing mangroves.
In line with global efforts to conserve and restore mangroves, India has implemented the Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats and Tangible Incomes (MISHTI). This comprehensive initiative aims to explore mangrove development areas across 11 states and 2 union territories over five years, starting from FY 2023-24. Through a Public Private Partnership program, MISHTI focuses on the conservation and restoration of mangroves along India’s coastline, sharing best practices for plantation, conservation, management, and resource mobilization.
Preserving the Future through Collaboration
Collaborating with state governments, CoreCarbonX (CCX) has been conducting studies employing GIS technology to estimate carbon stock in mangroves. These studies not only quantified carbon stocks but also identified livelihood opportunities for local fishermen in the area. Recognizing the value of natural solutions in addressing global challenges, CCX has placed strong emphasis on mangrove ecosystem conservation, working to enhance adaptive co-management and resilience to climate change while improving livelihoods. Key initiatives encompass waste control, pollution prevention, the establishment of nurseries for mangroves, and generating income for neighbouring communities through sustainable practices.
The CCX team also completed the Ennore Creek project in Tamil Nadu, focusing on conserving and developing mangroves to enhance resilience to climate change and improve livelihoods through adaptive co-management. The initiative addressed threats arising from increasing coastal populations, unsustainable development, and a lack of awareness about the value of mangroves, transforming these coastal treasures from neglected waste reservoirs to thriving ecosystems. Furthermore, the initiative also led to the establishment the Ennore Mangrove Forum, serving as a platform for carbon ecosystem conservation, research, and development, benefiting both conservation efforts and the economic growth of coastal communities.
Businesses play a pivotal role in supporting mangrove conservation efforts. By allocating resources and funding towards restoration and conservation projects as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environment Social Responsibility (ESR) initiatives, companies can meet their social and environmental goals, enhance their brand reputation and engage with environmentally conscious consumers. Collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and conservation groups strengthens conservation efforts while fostering meaningful partnerships for long-term environmental impact.
The Value of Carbon Credits Generated by Mangroves
Carbon credits are crucial in climate change mitigation, representing measurable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Mangroves, with their exceptional carbon sequestration capacity, have the potential to generate significant carbon credits. At present, global standards place the value of carbon credits generated from mangroves at around 12$ to 20$ per ton. By recognizing the value of these credits and supporting mangrove restoration and protection, governments and businesses can ensure the preservation of these invaluable coastal ecosystems.
In conclusion, India’s mangroves serve as indispensable coastal guardians, uniquely equipped to combat climate change and preserve vibrant ecosystems. Recognizing their significance, implementing robust conservation measures, and fostering collaboration between communities, governments, and international organizations will ensure the long-term survival of these invaluable ecosystems. By safeguarding India’s coastlines, we can create a resilient and thriving future for both local communities and the planet as a whole, especially as about 20% of India’s population resides on the coast, making the conservation of mangroves vital for their protection against sea level rise and extreme weather events.
About the authors: Niroj Mohanty is the CEO, CoreCarbonX and Kavita Sahany leads Strategic Communications and Government Relations at CoreCarbonX. All views/opinions expressed in the article are of the authors.