The latest edition of the “Tropical Forest Update” newsletter of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) focuses on the state of mangrove forests. Currently under threat, mangroves provide a variety of valuable ecosystem services, which necessitate looking into forestry investments as a way to ensure sustainable mangrove management.
Mangrove forests are ecosystems existing in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics. They comprise various kinds of trees and shrubs, as well as fern and palm species, all adapted to survival between land and sea. As is the case with forests in general, mangroves provide valuable resources such as timber, firewood and non-timber forest products and services. But unlike other forests, and on account of their unique borderline location, they also serve as habitat for fisheries and prevent coastline erosion. And yet to some extent mangroves seem to have been lying in the shade of “conventional” forests, since the perils they face have only recently been recognised.
According to the ITTO’s special edition newsletter, which summarises the findings of the 2010 World Atlas on Mangroves, the estimated loss of mangroves was 35,600 square kilometres between 1980 and 2005, with an annual rate of loss between 2000 and 2005 of 0.66 percent. In consequence, there has been increased attention focused by the international community on the state of the world’s mangroves, including organisations such as the ITTO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. This reflects an international consensus that measures must be taken to minimise the negative impact of human activity on mangroves, for which purpose governments as well as private sector participants in sustainable forestry investments also need to explore the opportunities which mangroves provide.
The ITTO newsletter focuses on the benefits of mangroves in terms of forest products and ecosystem services, benefits which might prove to be the much-needed incentive for eco-minded companies active in forestry investments to take part in ensuring the sustainable management of mangroves. According to the ITTO’s information, mangrove wood is both dense and resistant to rot and termites, with its durability making mangrove timber a valuable commodity. The ITTO newsletter provides other examples of mangrove forest products, such as sugar and honey and the application of leaves and bark in traditional medicine by indigenous communities.
A 2011 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), entitled “Sustaining forests: investing in our common future”, gives another perspective, emphasising the importance of mangroves as a buffer against the impact of storms and cyclones. The example is given of Vietnam, where the planting of 120 square kilometres of mangroves since 1994 has resulted in estimated savings of $7.3 million per year in dyke maintenance.
As regards environmental services, one of the most important functions of mangroves is the sequestration of carbon. In April 2011, the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) announced the findings of a new study showing that mangroves stored exceptionally more carbon than most tropical forests. In the study, carried out by CIFOR and the US Forest Services, scientists estimated that mangrove destruction and degradation may be generating as much as 10 percent of global deforestation emissions, even though mangrove forests account for as little as 0.7 percent of tropical forest areas. As the ITTO newsletter indicates, mangroves have a larger proportion of below-ground biomass than most other forest types, this perhaps being one of the reasons for the CIFOR study findings.
In any case, the importance of mangroves for carbon storage means that they also have a potential high non-timber value, which can also spur forestry investments in their sustainable management. It would follow that investment in sustainable mangroves should be on the agenda of companies interested in carbon credits generated via the UN programme for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) in developing counties. It’s surprising therefore that, according to the ITTO, the sequestration role of mangroves has been largely ignored in the REDD+ discussions so far.