The State of the World's Mangroves 2021
MANGROVES ARE VITAL COMPONENTS OF THE PLANET’S COASTAL ECOSYSTEMS. Mangroves sequester carbon at up to four times the rate of terrestrial forests, making them tremendous allies in our struggle for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. They stabilize coastlines, protect coastal communities against storm surges, reduce erosion, and serve as vast nurseries and habitats for fish, crustaceans, shellfish and wildlife. And yet, for all these wonderful benefits, we have lost so many of them. They’ve been chopped down for firewood. They’ve been cleared to make way for antibiotic sustained shrimp farms, and ever-spreading urban and leisure coastal developments. And they’ve also withered away due to depleted flows of fresh water or wanton human pollution. If I sound frustrated and angry about this degradation, I am. Coming from a mangrove coast in the South Pacific, I revere mangroves in the same light as their majestic cousins, the coral reefs and tropical rainforests. If their demise is a crime against nature, then surely it’s also a crime against the best interests of humanity.
I am, however, encouraged—in my work as the United Nations’ Special Envoy for the Ocean—to have observed an acceleration of international ambition for the conservation and restoration of mangrove forests. Over the last few years, from the Kenyan coastline to Xiamen harbor in China, I’ve seen sustainable mangrove projects in action, and am ready, whenever and wherever, to support those at the frontline of mangrove protection and restoration. If you have ever planted a tree and watched it grow to maturity, you know the joy of positive interaction with the majesty of nature. Observing and encouraging the growth of mangrove seedlings, known as propagules, offers the same reward—and is coupled with the knowledge that each new mangrove tree in the forest is one more small step towards a carbon-neutral world.
CHALLENGE FOR COP26
I commend the Global Mangrove Alliance for its visionary work. In the course of building a global community of stakeholders to safeguard the critical role of mangroves in coastal ecosystems, the Alliance is leveraging expertise, funding, resources and networks for the great task at hand. Given the progress it’s achieving, and its globally influential position in this area, I am putting the following challenge to the Global Mangrove Alliance: To encourage all of the Parties of the Paris Agreement to enhance their climate ambition by prioritizing mangrove protection and restoration actions. At the UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow this year commend those who already included mangroves in their climate mitigation and adaptation commitments, while urging others to join them for the next round of such commitments in 2025.
The Global Mangrove Alliance’s work provides a much-valued contribution towards the implementation of the universally agreed UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to conserve and sustainably use the ocean’s resources (SDG14, ‘Life Below Water’). In particular, the Alliance’s efforts are boosting the achievement of target SDG14.2 to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems ‘to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration.’ In sharing the challenges confronting coastal communities, and working together for coastal resilience, the Global Mangrove Alliance will no doubt also play an important role in both the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, both of which got underway this year. I commend the Global Mangrove Alliance for fostering cross-sector collaboration on mangrove policy and science, thereby magnifying the efforts of its stakeholders and scaling up both ambition and impact. A good example is the Global Mangrove Watch platform, launched by the Alliance last year. This is now the world’s most comprehensive mangrove monitoring tool, with universal online access to near realtime data. The platform is already informing and catalyzing evidence-based protection and restoration of mangroves around the world.
Drawing on tools such as this platform and the collective knowledge of experts across sectors and geographies, the Alliance has now produced this first State of the World’s Mangroves Report. I’m advised that the report has grown out of synergies across the dedicated membership of the Global Mangrove Alliance, and among a closely collaborating network of leading scientists. In doing so it has synthesized data, analyses and narratives into a cohesive call-to-action for leaders around the world to prioritize the conservation and restoration of mangrove forests. The report reveals the state of the science of the world’s mangroves and provides a roadmap to 2030—to raise public awareness and institutional support for advancing restoration, and building the recovery of the world’s mangroves. By spurring action towards the Alliance’s goal of substantially increasing mangrove cover world-wide, this report has positive implications for climate change, the health of the ocean, and sustainable development for people and the planet.
THE BENEFITS OF ACTION
You may have heard my mantra, ‘no healthy planet without a healthy ocean’, to which must be added ‘the ocean’s health is currently in decline.’ Given the critical importance of mangroves for the maintenance of both a healthy planet and a healthy ocean, I encourage governments, corporations, cities and people around the world to support the objectives and efforts of the Global Mangrove Alliance. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to include the protection and restoration of mangrove forests in our action plans for a blue-green recovery. Do so, and in one great movement we will protect and restore coastlines, improve livelihoods, safeguard biodiversity, reduce disaster risk, and combat both the causes and effects of climate change.