Depleting Mangroves pose threat to Pacific Islands

Mangroves, which are vital to the safety of Pacific Islanders, are being eliminated by industrial development and drowned by rising sea levels and seawalls. In cases where the mangrove forests aren’t cornered by these environmental threats, they will move inland, along with their wetlands, overcrowding inhabitants of the small Islands. According to a study done by the UNEP, “Many of the low islands do not exceed 4 m above current mean sea level, and even on high islands, most development is located on narrow coastal plains. Small island states have limited capacity to adapt to relative sea-level rise, including accommodating landward migration of mangroves and other coastal ecosystems.” It may not be physically or economically feasible for many small island state communities to retreat from landward migrating mangroves.

The study also warns that “reduced mangrove area and health will increase the threat to human safety and shoreline development from coastal hazards such as erosion, flooding, and storm waves and surges.”

In addition to the Mangroves’ relevance to Pacific Islanders safety, they have immense environmental value. 

The same study states that, “Mangrove loss will also reduce coastal water quality, reduce biodiversity, eliminate fish nursery habitat and fish catches, adversely affect adjacent coastal habitats (Mumby et al., 2004), and eliminate a major resource for human communities that traditionally rely on mangroves for numerous products and services (Satele, 2000; Ellison and Gilman, 2004).”

“Mangroves are nursery habitat for many wildlife species, including commercial fish and crustaceans, and thus contribute to sustaining local abundance of fish and shellfish populations.”

“Mangroves maintain coastal water quality by abiotic and biotic retention, removal, and cycling of nutrients, pollutants, and particulate matter from land-based sources, filtering these materials from water before they reach seaward coral reef and seagrass habitats (e.g., Ewel, 1997; Ewel et al., 1998; Victor et al., 2004).”

“The Pacific Islands, while containing only three percent of the global mangrove area, support unique mangrove communities and provide valuable site-specific services and products.”

Mangroves are also very effective at carbon sequestration. They are one of three forms of marine vegetation that store carbon 30 times faster than forests. Additionally, Mangroves effectively raise the shoreline and sea floor by storing the majority of their carbon in the soil and accumulating sediments from run-off. When there is destruction of mangroves, they release massive amounts of carbon that exacerbate global warming trends.

The UNEP study states that “Pacific Island governments have recognized the value of mangroves and the need to augment conservation efforts (e.g. South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, 1999a).” We are seeing governments stepping in to address the declining Mangrove wetlands. 

Initiatives like the recent Moataa Mangrove restoration project bring hope for Pacific Islanders and the Mangrove forests. The Moataa Mangrove project, which is funded by the US and Samoan governments, works to increase resilience to climate change and improve carbon sequestration. 

U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires, Jonathan Yoo, said: “The Moataa Mangrove Restoration Project is an excellent example of how a small grant can benefit both the environment and the community. Moataa’s work shows the greater community, your neighbors, and your country the value of these mangrove forests. Your community efforts echo the United States’ commitment as shown by President Biden’s focus on this critical issue.” 

Jonathan Yoo at the Moataa Mangrove Project.
The Moataa Mangrove Conservation Project.

“This project has become one of the good examples for every village in Samoa that has a mangrove conservation area. The importance of mangroves cannot be questioned. The beginning of this year we celebrated World Wetlands Day as well as Water and Forest Day, this celebration leads with a good message that we have to work together to protect our environment for the future of our children; and also the village council in stepping in to make sure that this project will turn out to be a successful one.” said Tuilaepa.

Since mangroves are threatened from multiple angles, conserving them is a complex issue. With regard to the Moataa project, the US Embassy of Samoa stated: “They are a fragile ecosystem and they need our help.”

Eden Anbar

Digital Journalist Intern
Pacific Environment Weekly

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