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The reef was in plain sight, a majestic view with sandy white beaches surrounding cayes with magnificent frigate birds and booby birds flying overhead at Halfmoon Caye Natural Monument. I was eager to put on my diving gear and see the wonders of the 186-mile-long Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Colorful coral reefs, whale sharks, turtles, and hundreds of cubera snappers aggregating three days before full moon at the Gladden Spit Spawning Aggregation Site in Belize. It was May 2002, and I was participating along with a research team to collect data on Nassau Grouper abundance and distribution which would inform the declaration of eleven Nassau Grouper Spawning Aggregation Sites.
Our ocean is rich in biodiversity and is a crucial carbon sink. Coastal wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs support a diverse array of marine life. According to a recent economic study of the Belize Barrier Reef, the estimated services derived for tourism and livelihoods is US$559 million per year with a population of 380,010 people. A healthy reef ensures healthy people and a resilient country.
Two decades ago, fisherfolk were adamantly opposed to the designation of marine protected areas. However, the tide is shifting to a more inclusive and participatory co-management approach where communities are empowered to protect, conserve and utilize the seascape resources in a sustainable manner in partnership with regulatory government agencies (Forest and Fisheries Departments).
The protected landscape and seascape in Belize continue to evolve with 103 legally established and recognized protected areas. Local communities and indigenous peoples have protected important forests and marine ecosystems which are not fully recognized and supported. Through the new Global Support Initiative, biodiversity conservation, livelihoods and recognition for community-driven stewardship of resources will be supported. Local communities are at the forefront of marine resources management and as such, an innovative model for community engagement in conservation and shared governance of world heritage, was documented with support from UNDP.
A ridge to reef strategy and strategic financing is necessary to ameliorate anthropogenic threats emanating from the ridges and their impacts on the fragile reef ecosystems. Sustainable Development Goal 14 calls for the sustainable use of ocean resources. Civil Society Organizations are experimenting and innovating by employing restorative actions as demonstrated by Fragments of Hope, a community based organization located on the Placencia Peninsula and whose focus is the restoration of coral reef habitats and advocacy for the sustainable management of associated habitats.
The voice of the resource users is crucial at all levels. The ocean provides more than environmental and economic benefits; it is our local, national and global heritage which we are entrusted as guardians and community stewards.
It is crucial to supporting the replication, upscaling and mainstreaming of sustainable fishing approaches such as: managed access, empowering a robust civil society network, and supporting seascape level collaboration and partnerships. A recent declaration of Belize’s largest and most biodiverse marine protected area, is a testament of strategic stewardship. These innovative actions are some of nature`s best kept secret contributing to sustainable development outcomes.
The ocean conference in June 2017 is a unique platform to challenge actors globally to address issues of sustainable fisheries, unsustainable tourism, acidification, pollution of our ocean, climate related impacts, and provide financing for ocean protection efforts towards shifting the tides.
How do you think we can continue safeguarding of vital ocean resources? Register for Voluntary Commitment for Implementation of Goal 14.
In the run up to the Ocean Conference in June, this blog series explores issues related to oceans, seas, marine resources and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life below water.
Do you remember that groovy 90’s tune by Counting Crows and Vanessa Carlton that goes, ““they paved paradise and put up a parking lot…took all the trees and put them in a tree museum and charged the people a dollar and a half to see ‘em.” These words ring very true in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T).
Propulsion toward the world’s generalized version of ‘development’ has seen greater emphasis on the destruction of green spaces and inclination toward skyscrapers and paved roads. This does nothing to help fight climate change. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in particular have at least four natural defences against sea level rise, storm surges, and coastal erosion – coral reefs, seagrass beds, beaches, and our mangrove forests.
We do not need concrete to survive. What we do need is clean oxygen, which is provided by green spaces. Mangroves provide a host of ecosystem services related to climate change adaptation, such as water quality maintenance/pollution control, storm protection, carbon sequestration, and protection against coastal erosion, just to name a few. So why don’t we treat these majestic trees with more respect? Green spaces in our cities are clearly vital for our continuation as a species. However, in Trinidad and Tobago mangroves in particular are disappearing at alarming rates.
According to Rianna Gonzales, National Coordinator of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network- T&T, “for our country, we thrive on the development of the coastlines and this affects our mangroves forests as they are destroyed to make way for ports and tourism-related development. On our western coast, to build one of the four oil and gas companies, mangroves were demolished. This affected beaches and coastal infrastructure which would otherwise protect T&T from some climate change impacts.”
Estimates by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggest that cities are responsible for 75% of global carbon emissions, with transport and buildings being among the largest contributor. At the same time, cities are also vulnerable to climate change impacts.In Port-of-Spain, the capital of T&T, mangrove forests have been ruined. Even though two of our major mangrove forests are protected by the RAMSAR Convention, they aren’t necessarily protected by enforced local law.
“We really need to move from the black and white act on the promises we made to the environment. Signatures on paper mean nothing if there is no action,” Gonzales stressed.
Cities are highly concentrated with people, cars, and buildings. They are busy with activities that need a lot of energy and therefore use more fossil fuel compared to rural areas. Many cities in the world such as Tokyo emit the carbon to as much as 62 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per year. Tokyo has more emissions in a year than 37 countries in Africa.
Earlier this year, Paris suffered from haze masking the city’s landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. Only yesterday, Beijing raised a “red alert” warning over smog and the city, from schools to business, has gone on a shutdown to protect its people. However, local government must remember the positive outcomes of long-term engagement strategies for creating and maintaining green spaces in the city. Fossil fuel companies in T&T however, continue to rule at the end of it all.
There are already cities in the world who have started its path to sustainability. Speaking at a side event in COP21 called “Global Covenant of Mayors: Towards carbon neutral and inclusive cities”, Mayor Josefa Errazuris of the city of Providencia, Chile, shared “in order to protect our commune and the sustainability of our territory, we must have efforts to include climate change as part of policies.”
In Trinidad and Tobago, the ‘Ministry of Planning and Development’ is responsible for the environment but the addition of the word ‘Sustainable’ to the title would show dedication to mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change. In a study done by the International Development Bank in 2014, mangrove restoration was identified as a key climate adaptation strategy for T&T, so why are they still being removed from the ecosystems? If climate change adaptation is really a significant for policymakers in T&T then conservation of green spaces in our cities need to be prioritized.