A Sri Lankan environmental-protection initiative to safeguard its coastal and inland mangroves—a world first—is also big boost for eco-tourism and a much-welcomed benefit for local women.

Mangrove forests of seawater-tolerant trees protect and create landmass, absorb carbon dioxide—thus helping combat global warming—and reduce the impact of natural disasters such as tsunamis.

But over the last 25 years, according to researcher, thousands of hectares have been lost, either cleared to make room for shrimp farming, make firewood or produce salt.

Now, in an effort to slow or halt the losses, women in local communities are being offered government loans and training to start sustainable businesses as alternatives to cutting mangroves.

The five-year project, launched by the government with conservation group Seacology and NGO Sudeesa, will make Sri Lanka the first country to protect all its mangrove forests.

The project has been widely hailed by the world’s mainstream environmental media outlets, including the Guardian in the UK and CTV News in Canada.

The Guardian notes how 7,500 women living near the west-coast Pambala Lagoon, a rapidly developing Sri Lankan eco-tourism destination, will participate in mangrove-protection training sessions.

Protection against climate change

It says: “Mangroves provide important protection against climate change as they sequester up to five times more carbon than other forests. They also protect coastlines against flooding, and play host to a variety of marine life. Conservation efforts in the region have already boosted fish harvests.”

It pictures mangrove seedlings growing the Seacology-Sudeesa nursery in Pambala, a variety of mangrove, Lumnitzera racemosa, that has the highest capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, according to research by the Open University.

Meanwhile, CTV News notes that all 15,000 hectares of mangrove forests in Sri Lanka are now earmarked for preservation, and that President Maithripala Sirisena has shown a personal interest in the project.

It points out that “there are 22 species of mangroves in Sri Lanka, a third of all mangrove species found around the world … their above-ground roots, mostly submerged in the water, produce food for small fish, crabs and shrimp and serve as a haven for breeding”.

And it notes that, apart from the environmental and global-warming benefits, 15 mangrove species “have provided anti-cancer compounds that have been shown to fight breast and liver cancer”.

After Seacology, a US-based NGO, and the Sri Lankan government launched the $3.4 million project, the Small Fishers’ Federation began producing 500,000 seedlings for replanting.

See the Guardian report here.

See the CTV News report here.

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