RAPID deterioration in mangrove health is occurring in the Sundarbans, resulting in as much as 200m of coast disappearing in a single year.
A report published today (11th Jan) in Remote Sensing by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) states that as human development thrives, and global temperature continues to rise, natural protection from tidal waves and cyclones is being degraded at alarming rates. This will inevitably lead to species loss in this richly biodiverse part of the world, if nothing is done to stop it.
ZSL's Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, senior author of the paper says: "Our results indicate a rapidly retreating coastline that cannot be accounted for by the regular dynamics of the Sundarbans. Degradation is happening fast, weakening this natural shield for India and Bangladesh."
The name 'Sundarban' can be literally translated as 'beautiful forest' in the Bengali language. The area is is the largest block of continuous mangrove forest in the world, being home to almost 500 species of reptile, fish, bird and mammals, including the endangered Bengal tiger.
Sarah Christie, ZSL's tiger conservation expert says: "The Sundarbans is a critical tiger habitat; one of only a handful of remaining forests big enough to hold several hundred tigers. To lose the Sundarbans would be to move a step closer to the extinction of these majestic animals."
Although mangroves are rare, they are an important barrier against climate change, providing protection to coastal areas from tsunamis and cyclones. They are also the most carbon rich forests in the tropics with high carbon sequestration potential, meaning their degradation and loss substantially reduce our ability to mitigate, and adapt to, predicted changes in climatic conditions.
Mangroves comprise less than 1 per cent of all forest areas across the world, amounting to roughly half the size of the UK. It is essential that the protection of mangroves becomes a priority, particularly for the charismatic species which will disappear with them if no action is taken to preserve their habitat.
ZSL's Chief Mangrove Scientific Advisor Jurgenne Primavera says: "Mangrove protection is urgent given the continuing threats to the world's remaining 14 to 15 million hectares of mangroves from aquaculture, land development and over-exploitation. The recently established IUCN SSC Mangrove Specialist Group, hosted by ZSL, will develop a global conservation strategy for mangroves based on an assessment of research and conservation needs."
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Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our mission is realised through our groundbreaking science, our active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and our two Zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information visit www.zsl.org
ZSL mangrove projects
ZSL's Community-based Mangrove Rehabilitation Project (CMRP) began in 2008 with the aim of increasing coastal protection, food resources and livelihood income of coastal communities in Panay and Guimaras (Philippines) by rehabilitating abandoned government-leased fishponds to mangroves, re-establishing legally mandated coastal greenbelts, and securing sustainable forest management agreements for local communities. To date, close to 100,000 mangroves have been planted, with the rehabilitation of 107.8 hectares (56.3 ha fishponds and 60.5 ha greenbelt) of mangrove forest underway. More than 4,000 people have been actively engaged in the planting, with many receiving intensive training. We are currently focusing efforts on reverting abandoned fishponds to mangroves, using science-based methods implemented by communities, and integrating mangroves into marine protected areas in three provinces in the central Philippines.
IUCN SSC Mangrove Specialist Group
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and increasing storm severity and frequency from Climate Change have drawn much attention and considerable resources to mangrove conservation. However, these are often driven by politics rather than science and remain at the local or national level. Within this context, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) recently established the IUCN SSC Mangrove Specialist Group (MSG) to develop a global conservation strategy for mangroves based on an assessment of research and conservation needs; to raise funds for such initiatives; and to communicate all these to policymakers, the NGO community and the general public through a website, newsletter and other outreach mechanisms. The MSG will be hosted by the Zoological Society of London and will have a Steering Committee, Red List Authority and core membership based on consultations with mangrove experts at the 2012 Mangrove MMM3 Conference in Sri Lanka. Early this year, ZSL will publish a Mangrove Rehabilitation Manual which documents the many learnings of its 4-year Community-based Mangrove Rehabilitation Project in the Philippines.
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