The ‘International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem’, celebrated each year on the 26th July, aims to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems and to promote solutions for their sustainable management and conservation. Mangrove forests are essential and productive ecosystems that provide numerous goods and services to the marine environment and local communities. These important habitats that are one of the last hunting grounds of the Bengal tiger and a refuge for countless migratory birds, mammals, and insects.

This historic day commemorates Greenpeace activist Hayhow Daniel Nanoto, who died of a heart attack on the 26th July 1998 during a massive protest to re-establish the mangrove wetlands in Muisne, Ecuador. The local community of Muisne joined forces with NGOs and the Greenpeace crew of its flagship Rainbow Warrior to dismantle an illegal shrimp pond in an attempt to restore this damaged zone back to its former state as a mangrove forest. Since Hayhow’s death, Mangrove Action Project (MAP) joined FUNDECOL of Ecuador in commemorating this date as Mangrove Action Day. As of 2015, 26th July was declared the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem by UNESCO, also known as World Mangrove Day.

“The 26th July is the day that we, communities and organizations working in defense of the mangroves, joined for the first time as little ‘Davids’ confronting a big ‘Goliath’ – the shrimp industry. That is what we must celebrate, but please, do not forget Nanoto who left his life in the mangroves of Muisne,” said Veronica of FUNDECOL, Ecuador.

The growing demand for cheap shrimp in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Europe is fueling this destructive activity.  Industrial shrimp farming poses one of the greatest threats to mangrove forests and has caused over 35%  of the worldwide loss of mangroves. “An estimated 1.4 million hectares of mangroves have been cleared worldwide for conversion to shrimp farms, much of which now lies abandoned due to disease and pollution,” said Alfredo Quarto, co-founder of MAP.

MAP is engaged deeply in supporting the conservation of mangroves, while advancing the sustainable development of their local communities. There is an urgent need to reverse the loss of mangrove forests and protect the rights of coastal communities to sustainably manage and conserve these ecosystems. It is only through our ongoing, cooperative actions that we will succeed in protecting these vital ecosystems.

We invite you to join us this year in preserving these critical ecosystems by entering our Photography Awards, and together with our partners and special judges, will harness the power of your mangrove images, to inspire conservation action.

Mangroves in Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, Galápagos, Ecuador. ©Jerome Gaw