THE EDITOR: Today the world marks International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem. Mangroves, referred to as the roots of the sea, are nature’s gift to us.
A 2013 document titled “Mangrove conservation in TT, WI,” by the Institute of Marine Affairs, states that mangroves, which are salt-tolerant, “are found on all coasts of Trinidad, particularly the Atlantic and the Gulf of Paria coasts, while in Tobago mangroves are mainly concentrated in the southwest end of the island … Estuarine mangroves are the dominant type, but there are lagoonal and coastal fringe.”
Our mangroves have been “negatively impacted by land conversion to accommodate population growth” and are “threatened by proposed coastal development, pollution from land-based sources, and coastal erosion” – as well as rise in sea levels and climate change. Andrew Kolb of Conservation International states:
“Mangroves help people weather the impacts of climate change – they also help mitigate its causes … a patch of mangroves could absorb as much as ten times the carbon of a similarly-sized patch of terrestrial forest,” thus taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and slowing down global warming.
He adds that “taking all their benefits into account, there is a case to be made that mangroves do more for us than any other ecosystem on Earth.”
Mangroves are found in 123 countries/territories and cover over 150,000 square kilometres globally. They are biodiverse and are the habitat for a number of species, including fish and shellfish such as crabs and shrimp. They also act as a refuge for corals from ocean acidification.
Mangroves promote eco-tourism also. Do we appreciate the gifts of the species that live there, eg caimans, swamp boas, crabs, raccoons, herons, egrets, and scarlet ibis that come to roost in the Caroni Swamp every evening, and that are at risk from poachers? And what about the gentle manatee in the Nariva Swamp?
Let’s examine the measures we are taking to conserve/restore them. In an article in the TT Guardian (Feb 2, 2016), Shereen Ali wrote: “… our scientists often don’t have even basic baseline data on many kinds of swamp life – data which is essential for developing efficient, effective conservation and management programmes … We don’t effectively or intelligently manage many of our natural resources – such as the Caroni Swamp – as well as we should, because we don’t have policies informed by accurate biological or environmental data.”
To meet our obligations under the International Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) which TT acceded to on April 21, 1993, a National Policy and Programmes on Wetland Conservation for Trinidad and Tobago (2002) was introduced. The policy acknowledges that “wetlands are an integral part of the natural environment of Trinidad and Tobago … Despite their obvious value, more than 50 per cent of the original wetland area of Trinidad and Tobago has disappeared. The resources of the surviving wetlands are severely degraded, through misuse and over-exploitation...”
We all need to play our part to conserve/restore our mangroves. Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO (2017), states: “Coastal mangroves are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. Current estimates indicate that up to 67 per cent of mangroves have been lost to date, and nearly all unprotected mangroves could perish over the next 100 years …
“Mangrove ecosystems provide benefits and services that are essential for life. From advancing food security, sustaining fisheries and forest products and offering protection from storms, tsunamis and sea-level rise to preventing shoreline erosion, regulating coastal water quality and providing habitats for endangered marine species… they sequester and store significant amounts of coastal blue carbon from the atmosphere and ocean, crucial for mitigating climate change ... we must reverse the trend of degradation and protect the mangroves that are so essential to the health of the planet.”
Let us redouble our efforts to protect our mangroves.