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Monday, February 19, 2024

Reaping the economic dividends of Mangrove conservation

Mangroves are one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth but lack of sustainable solutions to improve our 'blue economy' has led to immense migration of a myriad of species including birds, fish species, and reptiles.

Zeeshan Shah

Pakistan is losing its natural resources and its wildlife. Deforestation and pollution within its rivers and oceans are leaving an underlying impact on its blue economy. This is, in turn, affecting the associated industries, livelihoods, and coastal landscapes.

Community understanding and social awareness about the environment, its habitats and its challenges are extremely vital today to ensure better water resources, fisheries, agriculture, wildlife that will lead to reduced impacts of climate change.

We must ensure that we increase freshwater resources, increase plantation of mangrove trees on the coastal belt, revive our fisheries, help local coastal communities create livelihoods, and protect our coastal areas from harsh impacts of sea-level rise and global warming.

Read more: Pakistan’s economic environment on the edge

Every year, governments around the world pledge to protect the planet and its precious resources. This year, COVID-19 has presented itself as a challenge for the global universe.

Despite challenges, the pandemic has also uncovered some very unusual environmental benefits, including clean air, reduction in carbon emissions, and a revival of the marine and forest wildlife.

Global warming: A global threat

Despite being a high-risk country on the climate change front, the amount of carbon emissions and energy consumption by Pakistan is far less when compared to the bigger countries like China and the USA. The latter is responsible for over 40% of global carbon emissions across the globe.

Yet, Pakistan battles extreme weather conditions every summer due to pre and post-monsoon heavy rainfall and flash floods, leading to a risk of mass human evacuation and migration that impacts our disaster management assessment planning and poses safety hazards to our country’s poor population.

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In Java province in Indonesia, the city of Jakarta has flooded and the country is now moving its capital towards Bali. This is a brutal real-life example of a fellow Muslim country where the system collapsed due when climate adaptation measures came too late. We can learn from this and learn fast.

To secure livelihoods and ensure a safer environment, we need to adopt nature-based solutions to fight climate change.

Taking a look at the marine life across the coastal region, the immense benefits of nature in the form of mangroves; are protecting us from coastal flooding while improving climate resilience in its most natural form, leaving us with tremendous economic and climate benefits.

Over 39% of people worldwide are at risk of coastal flooding each year without Mangroves to protect them, making up almost 18 million people, with a vast majority across the Global South.

Rising Ocean temperatures each year are creating rising sea levels across the coast of Pakistan, posing a significant risk to human populations due to climate change.

Millions of people living close to the seas suffer the risk of being displaced fearing billions of dollars of economic damage and losses. Erosion of land due to flooding further exacerbates due to the destruction of mangrove forests.

Economic dividends of natural conservation

Mangroves can save us and our delta region. These Mangroves can sustain major impacts caused by waves, seawater, and rising ocean levels.

On average, a healthy abundant supply of mature mangroves can store up to 1000 tons of carbon per hectare, thus helping to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.

Mangroves offer basic protection to human beings by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere besides bracing human settlements against the harsh impacts of the sea.

Managing our coastal wildlife, forests, rivers, and oceans can reduce the risk of wildfires, protect our waters, reduce landslides, prevent heat stress, and reduce mass flooding.

Policymakers need to ensure a greater understanding of the value of ‘Natural Capital’ that can help us procure ‘Nature-based solutions’.

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For example: having a natural wall of Mangrove plantations is an easier way to restore coastal wetlands as compared to the construction of artificial barriers like granite structures that are used to protect the coast from the impact of heavy waves and rough seas.

According to a report by the Global Commission on Adaptation, protecting Mangroves worldwide can enhance the economic and financial benefits, surpassing 1 trillion dollars globally.

For example, in the case of Fisheries, areas where Mangrove plantations are healthy in quantity, can retrieve a profitable 270 pounds of fish valuing 44 dollars per hour.

Compare that to waters having fewer or no Mangroves, the average size of the catch is less than 50 pounds of fish- averaging only $2-$3 per hour.

In Pakistan, overfishing and illegal fishing is a primary problem in our waters. Not only it affects our marine life while reducing earning opportunities for the local fisherfolk.

The life and blood of Pakistan – The Indus Delta

The Indus Delta is home to the 7th largest Mangrove forest in the world and contains 95% of mangroves in Pakistan. It was once a beautiful stretch of fertile land, where local communities used to grow red rice, bananas, and vegetables.

The local communities also raised livestock. It sustained livelihoods of thousands of people who lived there surrounded by lush-green mangrove forests and abundant fisheries resources.

Today, over 500,000 people directly rely on mangroves cover for survival. Mangroves help reduce warm temperatures, reduce seawater erosion, and the CO2 footprint within our environment by releasing more oxygen in the air.

Mangroves are one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth but lack of sustainable solutions to improve our ‘blue economy’ has led to immense migration of a myriad of species including birds, fish species, and reptiles.

Fish stocks have decreased, and the fertile agricultural land has reduced, changing farmers to fishermen in a desperate fight for survival.

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The Indus Delta once was characterized by 17 major creeks, home to a rich bio-diverse culture, and a unique eco-balance. In 1932, the mangrove cover within the Delta was an estimation of 450,000 hectares that shrunk down to 85,000 hectares in 2005.

The Mangroves cover then began to grow; due to extensive efforts by the authorities, Sind Forests Department, local communities, and environmentally friendly organizations like WWF, currently spread over an area reaching 128,000 hectares.

Today, Port Qasim Authority and KPT are THE primary stakeholders responsible for protecting the mangroves – that define the survival of the Indus Delta and the Blue Economy.

The concept of the “Blue Economy” hinges on mangrove protection

The Prime Minister of Pakistan has declared 2020 as the Year of the Blue Economy. Here, we must understand the significance of preserving our coastal belts, our communities, and our fisheries, applying alternate energy initiatives to kick-start our efforts towards a viable “ocean economy.”

By reducing by-catch, we must also ensure that our fishermen receive a level playing ground to earn their living and while protecting endangered marine life.

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Protecting the Indus Delta must be prioritized. Stringent laws need to be implemented, to penalize those responsible for illegal cutting of mangroves, and fishing on coastlines.

Our allied forces, government, and our shipping and fishing sector must take this step in the first and foremost so that we can get ready to enter 2021 with a blueprint on the Blue Economy and a climate-resilient Pakistan.

The author is an environmentalist & change maker, with over 20 years of expertise in Media, Education and Banking sectors. He is the founder and director of Children Nature Network Asia, a leading advocacy and training initiative operating across Asia. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.