|Creative Commons photo|
26 July 2016, World Mangrove Day: A year into a groundbreaking program to protect all mangrove trees in Sri Lanka—and just in time for World Mangrove Day—the forests are being protected, and Sri Lankan women are receiving microloans and job training. And as mangroves, which sequester much more carbon than other types of forests, emerge as a key weapon in the fight against climate change, the program is poised to become a model for other countries worldwide.
These remarkable successes have been made possible, in large part, by a small NGO halfway across the world in the San Francisco Bay Area. Island conservation organization Seacology has achieved its target of raising $3.4 million for the five-year project, which will enable Sri Lanka to become the first country in the world to protect all of its mangrove forests. The funding is part of a pioneering partnership among Seacology, the Sri Lankan government, and local NGO, Sudeesa. The project combines legal protection, education, and conservation on the ground, plus sustainable economic development for Sri Lanka’s coastal communities.
“It is my belief that the mangrove restoration project will generate much needed awareness among key stakeholders such as the community, leisure sector personnel, tourists, and the general public. It is my hope that this would be the beginning of a long-term effort to sustain the mangroves for greater conservation benefits.”— The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe
Funded by Seacology, the world’s first mangrove museum will be officially opened by Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena on World Mangrove Day (July 26). The new museum, located next to a mangrove forest, will train adults in mangrove forest conservation and educate children about the value of these forests. Over 20,000 children are expected to visit the museum in the first year. The Sri Lankan government has also incorporated mangrove forest conservation into the national curriculum.
Launched in May 2015, this ambitious project has already achieved significant results:
· The Sri Lankan government has identified all of the country’s 37,050 acres of mangrove forests and has surveyed and demarcated almost half of them. The surveys identified previously unknown mangrove forest areas, which have been marked for protection. The government has also introduced legislation to protect mangroves and assigned forest officers to help guard them.
· Sudeesa has created three nurseries to cultivate half a million seedlings. More than 1,000 acres of mangrove forests will be replanted in 2016, and another 8,600 acres over the project’s lifetime. To date, over a quarter of a million mangrove seedlings (comprising 22 species native to Sri Lanka) have been grown. More than 50,000 of them have been planted with the help of the Sri Lankan Navy, schoolchildren, and community members.
· Sudeesa is providing job training and microloans, financed by Seacology, to women and youth in coastal communities. This encourages alternatives to cutting mangroves, such as sustainable farming and ecotourism, which generate income for poor families and protect mangrove forests. Since launching the project’s Livelihoods Program, 438 community organizations have been set up in nine coastal districts, 575 women have completed a three-day training program, 348 youths have completed a seven-day program, and 381 women have received microloans to support new sustainable businesses. In return, each community has agreed to help protect 21 acres of mangrove forests.
The need to protect mangroves is urgent. In the last 50 years, over half the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed. In Sri Lanka, almost three quarters of the mangrove forests have been lost since the beginning of the 19th century, largely due to the devastating Civil War (1983-2009) and to the cutting of mangroves for fuel, or to use the land for environmentally damaging shrimp farms or development. After years of instability, the Sri Lankan government is now leading the world in mangrove forest conservation.
“Sri Lanka is showing the world that it is possible to conserve mangrove forests whilst also improving the lives of local people, restoring wildlife habitats, and helping to ameliorate climate change. We hope that other countries with mangrove forests will follow Sri Lanka’s lead and replicate the success of this model.” — Ms. Dhammika Wijayasinghe, Secretary General, Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO
This innovative, grassroots project has transformed the lives of some of the poorest people in Sri Lanka while offering protection for mangrove forests.
“This project shows how important it is to work with local people to protect mangroves. By offering training and funding to develop alternatives to cutting mangroves, the project’s Livelihoods Program is alleviating poverty as well as protecting mangroves. It’s a win-win situation.”— Duane Silverstein, Seacology Executive Director
Although the project is fully funded, there is still work to be done. Over the next four years:
The Sri Lankan government will demarcate, legally declare, and gazette all mangrove land, and will deploy forest officers to protect the forests.
Sudeesa will continue to cultivate mangrove seedlings to replant in coastal provinces, restoring at least 9,600 acres of degraded shoreline.
Sudeesa will train an additional 6,925 women and 7,152 youths, and will offer 14,619 more microloans to meet the project’s target of providing alternative job training and microloans to 15,000 women and youths in 1,500 communities.
Project partners will share information and best practices with other countries, showcasing Sri Lanka as a model.
Seacology will continue to raise money to fund the Livelihoods Program, enabling more Sri Lankans to take out microloans, get job training, and find alternatives to cutting mangrove forests.