Sri Lanka to become the first nation to protect all its mangroves

Signal of change / Sri Lanka to become the first nation to protect all its mangroves

By Laura Picot / 19 May 2015

Sri Lanka has become the first nation to promise to protect all of its mangroves, in a US $3.4 million joint initiative by its government, the US non-profit Seacology and Sri Lanka-based NGO Sudeesa.

The project will protect the country’s 21,782 acres of existing mangrove forests over the next five years. It will also replant 9,600 acres that have been cut down, mostly to make room for shrimp farms or due to destruction during the civil war which ended in 2009.

The scheme will be run by 15,000 women, including many civil war widows, from low-income communities in neighbouring mangroves. They will receive alternative job training and microloans of approximately $100 each to set up small businesses. In exchange, they will monitor the mangroves, ensuring that no-one cuts the trees and alerting the authorities, who can provide legislative support, to anyone who does so. The women on the project will also be expected to stop using mangrove trees for firewood, and will each be provided with a fuel-efficient clay cooking stove and trained in how to reduce fuel and use alternative sources such as rice-husk and fast-growing timber.

Image: Sri Lanka's mangroves under new protection

Image credit: Tanya Smith-Sreen / Flickr

So what?

It is estimated that over 50% of the world’s mangroves have been destroyed in the last century. Mangrove trees provide several ecosystem services, including buffering against storms, acting as nurseries for coral reef fish species, replenishing fisheries and sequestering three to five times as much carbon as terrestrial rainforests.

They are also vital in feeding some of Sri Lanka’s poorest communities, in a country where half the protein comes from fish in coastal lagoons that are sustained by mangroves.

Anuradha Wickramasinghe, Chairman of Sudeesa, stated that the project “helps some of Sri Lanka’s poorest citizens find sustainable livelihoods”, and will help to significantly increase currently low fishing yields. He believes that the involvement of women is vital to the scheme as they control their family’s finances: “We have discovered that if you want a project to succeed, have the women of the community run it”, he said. It is not clear, however, whether local women have been involved in the design of the plans they are to run.  

If successful, Seacology Executive Director, Duane Silverstein believes the model for mangrove protection could be emulated in the conservation and restoration of important ecosystems supporting low-income communities worldwide.


Seacology (2015, May 12) Seacology launches nationwide mangrove project in Sri Lanka

BBC (2015, May 12) Sri Lanka first nation to protect all mangrove forests

New Scientist (2015, May 12) Sri Lanka first nation to promise full protection of mangroves

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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