Recap: IUCN Mangrove Specialist Group Meeting in China

Recap: IUCN Mangrove Specialist Group Meeting in China

MAP Executive Director Alfredo Quarto recently attended the IUCN Mangrove Specialist Group Symposium in Xiamen, China from November 12-13. He presented information about mangroves and MAP programs. Here are his thoughts.

IUCN MSG Group Photo
During the symposium, one of the presenters dealt with the importance of mangrove associates, including mangrove associates and epiphytes such as orchids in ensuring a healthy, bio-diverse mangrove ecosystem. It had not occurred to me just how vital these associates and epiphytes were in producing a healthy mangrove wetland, including ensuring adequate pollination of mangroves and overall plant health. The flowering plants such as orchids attract the insects that are important for pollination of the  mangroves.

This fact further proves the case for not relying on plantations and mitigation as a way to replace a functioning mangrove system in one place with a planted or afforested one elsewhere, because it will take many years to establish the full mangrove community including the associates and epiphytes.

Further surprise is that in China over 2500 ha of planted, introduced Sonerratia mangroves from Bangladesh have been established in China as a way to lessen coastal erosion and protect against hurricane winds and waves. However, this may not yet be an invasive species in China, as it turns out that the Sonerratia is not getting pollinated because of lack of available suitable pollinators in China. There are some plans to introduce such pollinators so this species can reproduce, but this raises the specter of yet another bio-invasive species there.

China-Spartina Zhiangjiankou Reserve
China seems ripe for such bio-invasions as they attempt to introduce other species of plants to their coastal zones. Someone had earlier introduce the marsh plant Spartina which grows naturally in the US to China and because of lack of natural bio-containment, this species has become rampant in growth, actually threatening the native mangroves because of the thick growth of this invasive grass-like can choke out the mangroves in the area. Vast beds of Spartina spread rapidly in the shallow bay and estuary waters there. At present there is no program established to counter this threat, but again talk of introducing natural competitors such as insects to keep the Spartina in check are being discussed there, which could be problematic in establishing yet a new threat to China’s wetlands.

During the MSG strategy session, I was able to get formal approval for my earlier introduced proposal for undertaking a global assessment of past and present mangrove restoration in an attempt to establish a best practices approach to mangrove restoration. This assessment will involve MAP, Robin Lewis and Norm Duke of MangroveWatch in the process. MangroveWatch will undertake the actual groundwork of assessing the success and failure of selected restoration sites. This is important because too often mangrove restoration projects are not monitored and evaluated, thus allowing bad practices to be repeated and promoted… to the tune of millions of dollars and thousands of wasted man hours in futile plantings. Because this failure to monitor and evaluate leads to around 70% or more failure rates, we are losing opportunity to reverse the ongoing negative trend in mangrove losses.

Therefore, undertaking this kind of widespread study of restoration attempts in Asia, the Americas and Africa could well help positively influence future mangrove restoration programs, and we can be assured CBEMR approaches will get the positive attention they so long have deserved.

The first phase of this assessment will occur in the Philippines where some terrible practices already exist, including a very expansive government program to afforest sea grass beds with mangroves! Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, who is a board member of both MSG and the ZSL is leading the effort in the Philippines to oppose this destructive ecosystem conversion, but so far has not been able to convince authorities there to change their short-sighted approach. So, the proposed mangrove assessment involving MSG will have some chance to affect policy there.

Aquaculture pond near Zhangjiankou Mangrove Nature Reserve
For inclusion of recommendations to IUCN by the MSG, I will be working on a couple of recommendations. One will recommend against mitigation as a means to justify further mangrove habitat loss, and the other the recommendation to keep shrimp farms out of the inter-tidal zone, not just out of the mangroves, but outside the whole inter-tidal area. These one page recommendations will be reviewed by the MSG steering committee and may be included in their final statement of recommendations to IUCN.

I saw Jim in Thailand and Cambodia, discussing MAP topics with him.  While traveling in Cambodia I visited a joint community-livelihoods project at Tonle Sap, meeting for the first time members of the PMCR group there whom MAP Asia has been working with over the last 10 years or so. They are establishing a very promising community savings plan, involving women’s groups in the process of making small loans for small-scale community development projects, eliminating the middleman in the process.