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Griffith University: Goals for mangrove recovery must be based on science

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A rapid scale up in mangrove restoration is required if the Australian Government hopes to reach the goals of a recently announced partnership with the Mangrove Alliance for Climate.

“This week at COP27 the Australian Government announced that it will join the Mangrove Alliance for Climate, along with United Arab Emirates and Indonesia, who have goals of a global 20% increase in mangrove habitat by 2030,” said Associate Professor Chris Brown from the Australian Rivers Institute and the Coastal and Marine Research Centre and a lead researcher with the Global Wetlands Program.

“If Australia is to meet the Alliance’s ambitious targets we will need to rapidly scale-up mangrove restoration, and assist other nations in doing so.”

“Conservation targets need to be both ambitious, so that they inspire the urgent actions that life on earth needs, and also scientifically credible, so that that action is tangible and achievable. Unfortunately, the 20 per cent target lacks the latter, it has no scientific basis.”

The government’s Mangrove Alliance for Climate 20% target of mangrove restoration seems to be based on the initial target of the Global Mangrove Alliance, an alternate collaboration NGOs, governments, scientists, industry, local communities, and funders.

“We worked with a team of scientists to develop and endorse a new scientifically valid target for the Global Mangrove Alliance of restoring 4092 km2 or 5.6% of the global mangrove area by 2030,” said Dr Christina Buelow from the Australian Rivers Institute and the Coastal and Marine Research Centre.

“This is half of the best scientific estimate of land available for mangrove restoration, 8183 km2.”

Half of Australia’s restorable mangrove habitat area (224 km2) could be rehabilitated by 2030, if restoration was done at a rate of 32 km2 per year.

“Obviously, we would need to back this up with ending human-caused mangrove loss for coastal development in both Australia and overseas,” Dr Brown said.

“We estimate we could prevent the loss of 30 km2 in Australia by 2030 if development were stopped. Protecting mangroves is important because cutting down mangroves emits far more carbon than is captured annually by healthy mangroves.”

“In Australia rates of mangrove loss are relatively low compared to overseas, so bolstering protections in other countries with high rates of loss is also a priority.”

The Alliance is supporting mangrove conservation and restoration to combat climate change as mangroves store and capture significant amounts of carbon.

“Increased efforts to conserve and restore mangrove forests is great news as mangroves have historically been destroyed by coastal development, aquaculture and deforestation for farming, among other threats,” said Dr Buelow.

Mangroves also provide other important benefits to people, including providing habitats for fishery species, sheltering coasts from storms and are key habitats for endangered species.

Dr Brown notes that achieving the goal of 8183 km2 by 2030 will be challenging, even with significant investment in restoration and innovation in restoration techniques.

“Historically many large-scale restoration efforts have been unsuccessful. For example, in restoration projects mangroves have often been planted in places they don’t naturally grow, due to conflicting land uses.”

Many of the best places for mangrove restoration are on contested lands where local people may not want restoration

“With conflicting land uses, for instance farm-land or shrimp farms, we also need to work with communities to better collaborate on supporting mangrove restoration,” Dr Buelow said.

“We are hopefully that this announcement will mean strengthened protection for mangroves, new innovations that improve the success of restoration and increased investment in restoration actions, however, this requires science-based targets.

“Rapidly increasing efforts to restore mangroves is needed if governments are to deliver on the potential they hold for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and combating climate change.”