/ 26 February 2024

Restoring mangroves a nature-based fix for plight planet faces

Senegal's Mangrove Forest
Mangroves — shrub and tree species that live along shores, rivers and estuaries — are a cost-effective solution to tackling the climate crisis. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Mangroves — shrub and tree species that live along shores, rivers and estuaries — are a cost-effective solution to tackling the climate crisis, according to Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the assistant secretary general of the United Nations and deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep). 

They are seen as a nature-based solution to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste. Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage or restore natural ecosystems, that address climate change, inadequate human healthcare, food and water security and disaster risk reduction.  

Mangroves, for example, can reduce the effects storms have on humans and provide habitats for fish, birds and plants. 

“Nature-based solutions have the potential to achieve the sustainable development goals and at Unea-5, we made it clear that we need to put these solutions at the core of our work,” said Mrema, the Unep deputy executive director. She was speaking at the opening of the sixth session of the UN Environment Assembly (Unea-6) in Kenya on Monday.

One of the key practical ways in which nature-based solutions are possible is the rejuvenation of mangrove trees in wetlands. Kenya, known for its mangrove habitats, represents about 3% of natural forest cover, covering more than 60 000 hectares of land near its coast.

Mangroves are known for their ability to improve water quality and help countries adopt a cost-effective solution to the climate crisis. But they are being destroyed, Mrema said. 

“Mangroves are being degraded, even though they have proven to be a barrier against pollution and other related climate challenges and Kenya has been working with organisations to rejuvenate mangroves in different areas along the coast.” 

A visit by the Mail & Guardian to the Kenyan coast town of Malindi, organised by Unep, showed how efforts to conserve mangroves had improved.

In recent decades, Malindi has experienced a surge in population that has taken a toll on the estuary, which comprises mangroves, sandbanks, dunes and freshwater pools.

Residents have cleared mangroves that once covered the banks of the estuary but a UNEP-led project funded by the Global Environment Facility, in the Sabaki Estuary, is working with the local community and officials to restore mangroves and raise awareness about the importance of these vital ecosystems.

“The success of this restoration effort largely relies on community participation,” stated Jared Bosire, Project Manager at the UNEP Nairobi Convention. “Nature Kenya as the Implementing Partner has actively engaged the community in selecting rehabilitation sites and, through sensitisation efforts and the provision of alternative livelihoods, we are witnessing notable improvements with over 10 hectares of mangroves restored and fishermen recording an increase in fish from the estuary in Kenya.”

The area is now being used for the benefit of the residents, with young men fishing and older women planting mangrove buds as part of the rejuvenation process.