Healthy mangrove forests provide a huge range of environmental benefits and need to be protected, says Mark Huxham. In this week's Green Room, he argues that schemes such as Redd offer a vital lifeline to the important ecosystems.
Like smoke from a bushfire, a pall of black pessimism permeates news from tropical forests.
Every year millions of hectares are lost; usually between 1-2% of global forest coverage.
But in recent years, new units of destruction have appeared measuring mass, not area.
In 2008, we saw 12 billion tonnes of carbon disappear - this is equal to the mass of about 100 million blue whales.
This shift in measurement reflects a change in international priorities.
Whilst the negative impacts of deforestation on biodiversity and indigenous people remain as serious as ever, it is climate change, and units of carbon, that have come to dominate discussions around forestry.
Approximately 17% of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from the destruction of tropical forests. This is more than the total from all forms of transport combined.
So conserving and restoring these forests must form part of a comprehensive climate change deal; reducing emissions from the developed world is essential, but is not enough.
International negotiations have developed a mechanism to achieve forest conservation, known as Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation).
The idea is that tropical nations will be able to apply for funds either to slow the rate of destruction of existing forests or to increase the area of new ones.
Given that the international carbon market is worth in excess of $100bn per year - more than 100 times what is spent on international conservation - Redd holds the potential of injecting large sums into saving tropical forests and of finally reversing the decline.
Mangroves, forests that grow in intertidal areas in the tropics and sub-tropics, and the people that depend upon them could really benefit from Redd-related carbon payments.
Mangroves account for only around 0.4% of all forests; but the multiple services - such as coastal protection, nursery habitat for fish and filtration of pollution and sediments - that they provide, and the rapid rate of their destruction, make them a conservation priority.
They are also highly effective natural sinks for carbon, capturing up to six times more carbon per hectare than undisturbed rainforests.
We have been working with conservation charities Earthwatch Institute and Plan Vivo, along with the Kenyan government, to develop a demonstration community mangrove conservation project at Gazi Bay in southern Kenya.
There are many good reasons to carry out this work, and money from carbon credits might just make it possible - not only in Kenya, but in other communities throughout the tropics.
So why don't we seize the chance?
Critics of the carbon market highlight a number of reasons.
First, the carbon accounting approach to forestry may fail to see the woods for the carbon; the best ways of maximising carbon revenue may not be the best ways of maintaining healthy ecosystems.
For example, plantations of fast growing exotic species - such as eucalypts - can rapidly capture carbon but may be a disaster for native wildlife and ecosystems.
But the temptation to do this will usually not arise for mangroves, which are highly specialised and grow in areas that other trees cannot tolerate.
Second, there is the threat that Redd and similar systems will be used by governments to evict "inefficient" local people from forests made suddenly valuable by carbon money.
The recent People's Climate Conference, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, came out against Redd on these grounds.
But this is an argument for bottom-up projects, which are led by local people from the start. While the Redd process is still flexible and evolving, an opportunity exists to model future projects on community-based principles.
In the case of mangroves, governments already own most forests around the world, with local people having no formal rights to their use or powers to protect them. Redd presents an opportunity to design and test new systems of community tenure-ship.
The third argument heard against investing in forests for carbon is that of "permanence": how can we know that carbon locked in forests today will not be released following fires or clear-felling tomorrow?
Such an argument could be made against most low-carbon developments. There is no guarantee that the wind turbine built today will not be struck by lightning tomorrow, and anyhow it will "die" at the end of its operating life of 30 years.
However, mangroves are capable of storing carbon for many thousands of years in the form of peat in their sediments, and much of this carbon may remain in place even if the forests themselves are destroyed.
One UK newspaper columnist compares carbon offsetting to the indulgences paid by the pious in the Middle Ages - a device to absolve your conscience without changing your actions.
This is the "moral hazard" argument - that offsetting carbon is a trick that will excuse business-as-usual and will be counterproductive.
But we no longer have a choice between protecting forests and changing lifestyles. Both are necessary.
Money from offsetting can form a useful bridging mechanism as we move towards reducing emissions and enhancing and protecting sinks. But we do need to make sure that both happen, and that cash generated from offsetting is only a part, and a diminishing one, of the funding required.
And what can be said of the final argument, that pricing ecosystem services such as sequestration is a final capitulation to the market-driven, growth-obsessed logic that has got us into our current mess?
I agree that we need a revolutionary change in our ethical outlook so that ecological sustainability becomes our central concern, but I don't see it happening in time to save the forests.
(Lord) Nicholas Stern, in his landmark review into the economics of climate change, identified climate change as a massive "market failure".
By using the language of economics, his report influenced thinking from governments to tabloid newsrooms, even though it contained no new science.
We should learn from this and use the tools of economics to help correct "market failures" such as the destruction of valuable mangroves for short-term gain.
Meanwhile, the bad news from the tropics continues to drift in.
But for the first time in many years there is an emerging opportunity to clear the smoke, and community-based conservation of mangroves is a good place to start.
Dr Mark Huxham is an Earthwatch researcher based at Napier University, Scotland
The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Do you agree with Dr Huxham? Should mangrove forests be protected at all costs? Do schemes such as Redd help or hinder conservation goals? Can adopting economic language help correct "market failures", such as short-term gains from habitat destruction?
The best thing we could do is to plant trees and mangrooves while it's not too late. If we cut, we should plant. Minimize also cutting. We all know that trees can grow maturely after several years. Population is booming around and as much as possible, we should use recycled materials.
I am no specialist in mangroves, but what I am pleased to see developing in both reporting and political discussion circles, is the realisation that mankind will not solve our climate problems with conscience alone. Many care a great deal but we need to face the fact that many do not; only by bringing the climate down into economics will we solve these issues, whether we like it or not. It's not an excuse for business as usual - we can't afford that - but if we are smart we will re-shape our current economic outlook to value what really matters. In this I agree with contributor #3; we have a fantastic opportunity right now to change the way we're going.
Rob Wigham, Aberdeen, UK
Who gives a dime to mangroves, drain the water from mangroves and grow corn for bio diesel. My small car Ford expedition needs lot of diesel and diesel is very expensive. If we increase the supply I am sure prices will go down and it will cheaper for me to fill up.
Along with a huge number of facts with which I can bore everyone I know, it is a powerful and exciting thing to believe that, through good conservation science work, you really can save the world. Mangrove conservation based on, need for coastal protection, sustainable products for firewood and construction, income generation, and creation of new land. To conclude, it is important that we better understand the conditions under which local forest users are more or less likely to adopt conservation-oriented practices like tree planting and forest management.
Engr Salam, LGED, Bangladesh
mangrove is part of the natural system to protect coast and river estuary. Sadly it has long been associated with collecting "detritus" - unpleasant to us, but all part of the environmental system nurturing micro life. Further, like terrestrial forest Mangrove is associated with unpleasantness the final refuge of the landless/dispossesed or no longer wanted. Singapore is a good example of this. Mangrove can be seen as the resort of the city's discarded litter, entrained as it is through the run off from impermeable surfaces, drains, canals. However that said Singapore goes to considerable costly effort to replace/retain and maintain the remains of it's once extensive mangrove sites. Pasir Ris is a notable example amongst many on the island. The mangroves of "Paris" are interlaced with substantial boardwalks which make not only for a pleasurable if not educational stroll, but a haven of solitude for wildlife.
Dick Mason, Singapore
"But for the first time in many years there is an emerging opportunity to clear the smoke, and community-based conservation of mangroves is a good place to start." Of course, we need both to protect forests and go on living near them. In our country,these forests are good resources for fire woods and shelters.Rural People need to use them daily. Nowadays, thanks to JICA's help and knowledge to our people along with their great endeavor,we have tried hard to replenish what we have used in these mangroves forest.
Myint Lwin, yangon, Myanmar
Confusing but concise? No, ecologist, conservationist or ethono-botanist can dispute the fact that ecosystems especially that of the low-lying coastal areas such as tropical mangrove should not be protected in the face of all intrusive anthropogenic activities, but such protection nowadays should integrate all components underpinning its protection. Serving as a Mangrove Restorationist and facilitator for FCPF/REDD+ for Cameroon in NGO, REDD+ being a "waving additionality" will have its own impact (-/+) on mangrove protection at different levels. It could lead to a new round of protection for mangrove forests without securing legal recognition of usage rights and tenure of local communities since all such land belong to the state. It might reward the wrong countries and practices even if the market proves to be devoid of corruption. It is unlikely also that those states who are both major perpetrators of mangrove deforestation and engage in corrupt practices are going to honestly embrace the REDD framework. REDD perpetuates commoditisation of nature since its language and mechanism are only relevant in a capitalist/commodity market economy. Finally REDD focuses on State and not people: the purpose of the FCPF is to support state to decrease deforestation and degradation and to issue emissions reduction certificate at the national level and might go down to the project level though FCPF/REDD is clear on the implication of users. Much still is needed to fine turn the market follows for mangrove African countries in the FCPF considering the many bottle necks that exist. Ok, we are inside the train let see what the future holds!
MOUDINGO, EKindI, Douala-Edea National Park, Mouanko, Cameroon
Mangrooves do offer a lot of benefits to the environment especially in maintaining wildlife and protection from environmental hazards. I have witnessed the growth of these trees along the Mtwapa creek in Mombasa over the last 15 years and quite impressed by their growth and other creatures that can be found. I encourage that these trees be protected.
Mzalendo, Mtwapa, Mombasa Kenya
Both the 'bottom-up' approach and the REDD mechanism do strengthen and support an emerging framework of mangrove protection and livelihood security of the mangrove-dependent communities. One of the primary challenges towards such a 'win-win' scenario is to overcome the social barriers by winning the hearts and minds of these ecosystem-dependent communities who have been bearing the brunt of an ever-changing conservation policy landscape which is ruthlessly techno-centric, exclusionary, and promotes confiscation in the name of conservation. Through my longstanding association with such mangrove-dependent communities in a coastal Ramsar site in India (the Bhitarkanika Mangroves) I have witnessed how the conservation planning and strategies systematically and meticulously restricts community accessibility to these natural resources and in turn severely impacts their livelihoods and survival. This is to share one such experience and an attempt to generalize the observation. REDD skeptics are very critical of the benefit sharing from such financial arrangements with their emphasis on 'who really wins from such a win-win scenario'. But there are also some best-practices in place demonstrating equitability and sustainability of such processes and the Gazi Bay conservation project will further enrich this with fresh insights and strategies. The bioshielding capacity of mangroves were well recognized during the 2004 Tsunami and since then many mangrove-focused programmes are in place at various levels; the Mangroves for the Future being one among them. To ensure community participation and ownership of the community-based conservation programmes, there is an urgency to build up institutional interplay and multi-level coordination among many such programmes at the community-level.
Jyotiraj Patra, University of Oxford, UK
The mangrove dominated eco-system is one of the more fantastic and effective of the planets climate change buffering methods, requiring protection and encouragement for the good of the biosphere. Offsetting in general should not be seen as a major ingredient in lessening/repairing the negative effects of our actions. It is however a fantastic tool for encouraging conservation and biodiversity increasing movements, offering a route to a sustaining profitability.
Care should be taken not to ignore the possibilities in 'developed' countries, their forests often miniscule in relation to those of relatively recent history.
Carbon credits, Redd, and other such indirect approaches do not work in developing countries, which cover most of the tropical mangrove forest regions. 'Short term monetary gain' vs. 'Long term environmental loss'. Who wins? The destruction of Mumbai's mangroves by corruption (private/government) is a stark example. Environment, and mangroves, are not the priority of people here, although with recent flooding and other disasters linked to climate change, opinion may soon change favourably.
Sandeep Pinge, Mumbai, India
"...plantations of fast growing exotic species - such as eucalypts - can rapidly capture carbon but may be a disaster for native wildlife and ecosystems. But the temptation to do this will usually not arise for mangroves, which are highly specialised and grow in areas that other trees cannot tolerate." Unfortunately, there are innumerable "reclamation" programs that are filling in viable mangrove wetlands to grow oil palms and set up other development options in the mangrove areas such as shrimp ponds, tourist hotels and golf courses. There is no guarantee that the conditions that favor only mangroves will not be changed to fit the newest economic incentive. Otherwise I am quite impressed with Dr Huxham's analysis of the situation, and suggest if we proceed into REDD strict adherence to certain guidelines must apply so that the problems listed ion this analysis can be minimized.
Alfredo Quarto, Port Angeles, USA
The problem in these mechanisms is that they "export" a set of our own Western cultures onto these ecosystems; which were surviving there beforehand pretty much because we hadn't got our sticky fingers on them - till now. Suddenly there is a whole load of stuff being dumped down in these places; our values, how we decide stuff is worth something; and its dropped in one afternoon from a Jumbo jet. - and lets face it; look at what those "values" have done to our own back yards ? - we want to save this other stuff because our "know the price of everything, but the value of nothing" has sawn down all the tree's we had here ? We take a pristine wilderness; tell the people who live there it is no longer their home; it's a "business opportunity" - well tell them they are no longer allowed to value it because of it's traditional use to them, but rather because of some dollar spot price on a computer screen, and then, when we have thoroughly messed up their heads, trying to catapult them into our version of the 21st century; we wonder why they cut down all their trees, like we did our ? Like the rats and the syphilis that stowed away on the early explorers ships; we have to consider if we are exporting a whole raft of other "unintended results" when we go wading into these places with our mind-set. Perhaps the best way to assure ourselves that these forests will still be here is to actually decide to do what we were doing before . . . - and leave them well alone !! - I know that's an anathema to us; but if you haven't figured that out yet; you haven't a hope of fixing our problem; we trashed the planet. Now either we rein in ourselves. Or we will kill the lot of it. The very words we use; the very way we discuss the issues; in dollars; "resources" plans and maps; these are the unintended rats in our very mind-set that stowed away upon the ships of our "good intentions" - and we spread these pests every time we step into these pristine wildernesses. We can put our empty bean cans back onto the plane when we leave; but we can't unwind our words, and thoughts and ideas, and take those back out of the environment when we leave; and those are what cut down the trees we had in the first place.
Steven Walker, Penzance
It is a wonderful and inetresting news and write up. Please keep up the good work.
Elijah O. Mokaya, Mombasa, Coast, Kenya
Having studied coastal management I totally agree that Mangroves provide considerable environmental services and deserve special protection (deaths from the 2004 Tsunami would have been greatly reduced with intact Mangroves protecting the coastline). I also totally agree that incorporating environmental services into the current economic system (through REDD or any similar schemes) is the only way, in the short term, to provide the funds and incentive to protect these vital places. Let's try it and see, its better than doing nothing and hoping that everyone wakes up to what is happening.
Darren Catterall, Hong Kong
People are going to need jobs and the affect of some portion of the industrialized wealth of nations flowing to local communities that work to protect forests is a case where a little will go a very, very long way toward starting to make things better. I'm still thinking something could be learned from the mess current world finances are in that can speed the transition to valuing ecosystem wealth and what it provides. Mangrove trees essentially can spit out salt that keeps others at bay and their design of how they naturally form channels for water to flow is truly a thing of beauty. Maybe the world needs to go to a fair trade system of wooden nickles till mankind figures out how to get a handle on global warming and restore balance in Nature so the world can go on living.
Dale Lanan, Longmont, Colorado, USA
The 'bottom-up' approach is crucial. People in most cultures resist and react against 'top-down' legislation; 'Thou shalt . . .' Most natural environments are somebody's home. Local action supported by a legislative structure that empowers small communities is how effective, intelligent, positive change can happen. Many of these communities have lived in such sensitive local ecosystems so long they are an integral part of the local balance. A partnership of local knowledge and carefully-applied modern technology is the way to reverse the negative changes. Such an approach, exercised in all humility, is being practised successfully with indigenous Inuit groups in Canada.
Jeff Taylor, Shanghai, China
"But we no longer have a choice between protecting forests and changing lifestyles. Both are necessary." Absolutely agree. Mangroves provide opportunities for high-density, bio-diversity spanning marine and terrestrial environments, making them an excellent investment for the community of fellow wo/man. Plant a plot of mangroves today as part of your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) program and as hedge against "peak capitalism".
Martyn Willes, Makati City, Philippines