The National,Thursday August 13th, 2015
A CONSERVATIONIST’s recent plea for more government intervention in preserving or rehabilitating mangrove forests is timely.
It is important especially for village communities, who for generations have depended on these vital ecosystems to take the lead themselves in efforts in replanting those mangrove areas destroyed or threatened.
Conservation and scientific knowledge are needed by the concerned communities in a period where the former wisdom of the elders may have been lost or disregarded by the younger generations.
When they lack such wisdom or appreciation for the environment as well as modern scientific knowledge the people are basically helpless against the forces of climate change. Therefore, when their environment is threatened, the people’s very existence is threatened.
Mildred Dira, a technical officer with the non-governmental organisation, the PNG Centre for locally-managed areas has urged the government to be serious about funding and implementing mangrove rehabilitation projects in the country.
A government initiative on sustainable development or green development, driven by the Department of National Planning and Monitoring is one that can promote this exercise either through direct funding or canvassing technical assistance and support.
For years, coastal villages living off the mangroves have directly contributed to their gradual decline and destruction. Villagers have turned to mangroves for their entire livelihoods. Mangroves have been the source of everything from building materials to food, medicine and cosmetics.
Many unfortunately have taken these storehouses for granted and have had very little regard for their preservation.
The constant use and degradation have resulted in the loss of people’s food supplies and other essentials. Climate change impacts are made worse by the loss of mangroves which are a natural defence or buffer against king tides or rising sea levels.
This is basic scientific knowledge which some coastal communities are ignorant or even when aware of the dangers; continue to carry on their destructive action out of necessity. A few facts on mangroves may help highlight how vital they are to us. Mangrove roots not only provide support in unstable soils and to withstand currents and storms, but also breathe air. To avoid suffocation in the oxygen poor mud, mangrove trees snorkel for air. They develop aerial or air-breathing roots.
These take in above-ground air. All aerial tree roots have on their surface, special tiny pores to take in air. The function of aerial roots are to absorb air or/and to provide structural support in the soft mud.
Water filtering: Underwater, a huge number of filter-feeders are fastened on the tangle of roots such as barnacles, sponges and shellfish.
These filter feeders clean the water of nutrients and silt. As a result, clear water washes out into the sea, allowing the coral reef ecosystem to flourish.
Soil stability: Mangrove roots prevent mud and sand from being washed away with the tide and river currents. Mangrove trees slowly regenerate the soil by penetrating and aerating it (other creatures such as crabs and mud lobsters help in. As the mud builds up and soil conditions improve, other plants can take root. Mangrove trees reduce the damage from violent storms.
With better understanding of the role of mangroves, people would be a lot more appreciative of what they have and help in the wider conservation efforts driven by government agencies and their partners in the private sector.
In the Motuan village of Pari, through the combined expertise and assistance from Partners with Melanesia Inc, National Fisheries Authority, Conservation and Environment Protection Authority have backed the rehabilitation of mangroves there.
Through this combined effort mangrove seedlings were distributed and planted in place of others destroyed.
There are other areas of the country where efforts are being made by locals themselves to preserve mangroves and increase their defences against the ravages of climate change.
In Manus and the Abau area of Central province some individuals have taken the lead in creating awareness of climate change and actually advocating the sustainable use of mangroves and rehabilitating those that have suffered due to human activity.
Greater commitment by government agencies through technical advice or a little direct funding for those already in the forefront of alleviating climate impacts can go a long way.
For the success of any endeavour, the village communities concerned must show their commitment to any conservation or rehabilitation initiative as they are the most affected by any change.