Blue-Green Protectors: Mangrove Restoration in Sri Lanka

On the border between land and sea, a unique ecosystem covers tropical and subtropical regions around the world: Mangrove forests. Mangroves are well adapted to saline water and the tides, and they thrive along the coastlines of over 118 countries, including Sri Lanka. They offer a wide variety of ecosystem services, provide a sheltered habitat for many species of animals, and are vital allies in the fight against climate change.

Mangrove samplings (C) Janith Vimukthi Photography

Mangroves are protectors of the coast and of the people that live around them. They form a green barrier that can hold off coastal erosion, storm surges, and even tsunamis. They are also blue lungs for the planet, storing up to five times as much carbon as other types of forests, which they bind under water and do not release after their death. They live in conditions that other trees cannot survive, and their extensive root systems create a unique environment for fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, and many other animals and plants.

Combine all of this, and they provide essential services for both climate change mitigation and adaptation: but at the same time, they are under threat. In the last three decades, more than 50% of Sri Lanka’s mangroves have been destroyed due to prawn farming, hotel development, settlements, logging, tourism, agriculture, and pollution. It is now illegal to fell mangroves, and Sri Lanka has become the world’s first country to protect the entirety of its mangrove forests: but immense damage has already been done.

According to IUCN estimates, around 12,000 hectares of mangrove forest remain, with major concentrations in the Puttalam, Jaffna, Trincomalee, and Batticaloa districts (together almost 9,000 hectares). Sri Lanka is home to over twenty species of true mangroves, and a multitude of other plant and animal species depend on the ecosystem these trees create.

Restoring and replanting mangroves is of great importance for Sri Lanka’s future. They will keep the island’s coastal communities protected in the face of sea level rise and extreme weather events. They will continue to host a wealth of wildlife and natural resources, to provide livelihoods, and to offer ecosystem services. Furthermore, they will mitigate climate change by binding carbon and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

To save our blue-green protectors, SLYCAN Trust is spearheading a mangrove restoration project which focuses on the North and the South province of Sri Lanka. The project is implemented with the guidance and the support of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment. In the North of Sri Lanka, large amounts of mangroves have been destroyed during the civil war and through industrial activity: restoring them will not only help the ecosystem but also contribute to peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts in coastal communities.

On July 30th, 2018, to commemorate the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem (July 26th) MEPA  and SLYCAN Trust will kickstart the Blue-Green Protectors Project in Jaffna. During an environmental workshop with various stakeholders and interested parties, the project will plant 500 to 1,000 mangroves in coastal areas and advance the mangrove restoration process.

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