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Focus on Global Biodiversity

October 2010

Mangrove forests – Living Life on the Edge

photoMexico's remaining mangrove cover is endangered

When Cyclone Nargis slammed into Myanmar in 2008 it became the country's worst recorded natural disaster. An estimated 140,000 persons were killed, some 2.5 million injured or displaced and the country is still struggling to recover from the catastrophe.

For centuries, Myanmar's vast mangrove forests had provided a protective shield against such natural disasters as well as providing bountiful harvests of fish, building wood and charcoal to local communities. But the ongoing destruction of around 60% of the forests had left the country open to the full fury of Nargis' 130 mile per hour winds and 12 foot high waves.

Some 40 million acres of mangrove forests straddle the earth's tropical and sub-tropical regions, but though they provide millions of people with a livelihood, help protect against coastal erosion and, as in the case of Myanmar, protect coastal communities, they have often been misunderstood, abused and even feared because of their often brooding appearance.

National Geographic magazine graphically described the forests: "Mangroves live life on the edge. With one foot on land and one in the sea, these botanical amphibians occupy a zone of desiccating heat, choking mud and salt levels that would kill an ordinary plant within hours. Yet the forests mangroves form are among the most productive and biologically complex ecosystems on earth."

Cyclone Nargis provided a deadly wakeup call—but with 20 % of global wetlands already destroyed and one in six of the estimated 70 remaining species in grave danger according to the U.N. a race is now on to save the remaining mangroves worldwide.

JICA is involved in several projects. In Myanmar, Cyclone Nargis destroyed a two-year-old agency program in the Ayeyarwady Delta aimed at conserving and reviving the forests by reseeding, strengthening local forestry capabilities and devising programs to try to strike a balance between the needs of local communities while ensuring the sustainability of the forests themselves.

The project has been relaunched as part of the cleanup process.

Nearby Indonesia is home to the world's largest remaining mangrove forests. But the wetlands have been seriously degraded and JICA has been working for several years with the government, first to establish a national nerve center for mangrove oversight, the Mangrove Information Center and continue with ongoing activities including training local personnel, both in Indonesia and in Japan, environmental education, the establishment of mangrove monitoring systems and ongoing research.

Halfway across the world, Mexico's Yucatan peninsula is internationally recognized as an ‘important wetland' for migrating birds and nesting areas for pink flamingos and marine turtles. But there too its mangrove forests are being destroyed, the area despoiled by overfishing and awash with three tons of waste daily from nearby communities.

JICA is working with Mexican authorities to revive the mangroves, find alternate means of waste disposal and new but sustainable fishing possibilities and provide environmental education to local people and tourists.


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