Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Reclaim Mangrove Forests or else Perish!" Experts now warn.


By Charles Ogallo.

Scientists now warn Western Indian Ocean countries of a catastrophic future unless immediate interventions are put in place to reclaim the badly depilated Mangrove Forests in the region.

They attributed frequent impacts of sea surges, inundations and natural disasters recorded in the recent years in the coastal areas as strong evidence of increased vulnerability of the region to ecological disasters.

Researchers say mangroves which cover 37 percent of the WIO region and have significantly played economical and socio-cultural roles in the lives of coastal communities was badly being degraded.

Mangroves were known to have environmental values as they protect the coastal strip from erosion. Mangroves forests also play vital roles biologically, with a high level of fauna biodiversity as over 80% of commercial fisheries and other aquatic species spent most or part of their life cycle in the mangroves.

Ecologically, they play a crucial role in fertilisation, stabilisation, filtration, regulation of microclimate and acting as food chain support and as nurseries for many fish and invertebrate species.

The group working under the support of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association –WIOMSA however say the deadly Tsunami that occurred along the coast of Indonesia four years ago had its effects felt in East Africa as a result of the high waves that hit the coast.

Accordingly the scientists say such high waves could have been averted if there were mangrove forests to reduce the intensity of the waves before they hit land.

They now want the WIO countries; Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Seychelles, Mozambique and Somalia to embark on a programme to restore the mangrove forests following long years of destruction for economic reasons.

J. Bosire a researcher at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute says mangroves forests are globally threatened by human activities such as unsustainable harvesting, conversion to other uses and more recently, by effects of climate change.

He said predicted effects of climate change on mangroves also include both more extreme droughts and flooding, In 1997/8 and 2006; massive sedimentation due to erosion of heavy sediments following extremely heavy rainfall.

However, Dr. James Kairo, another researcher at the National Research Institute in Mombasa, said because of their vast importance, humanity must find a way of restoring the forests for posterity.

Dr Kairo warned that unless the mangrove forests were restored, the repercussions could be grave, especially to the coastal communities, considering the predictions on rising sea levels.He warned that the lucrative tourism and hotel industry in the WIO region definitely faces collapse unless Mangrove forests are urgently rehabilitated.

"Strong storms and tides expected to be accelerated by rising sea water level may also wash away or submerge the much adored white sand beaches and all our attractive tourists hotels along the coast."Dr Kairo said .

The Mangroves Researcher told a environmental journalism forum recently held at the Stone-Town of Zanzibar, Tanzania that programmes were currently running to ensure the replanting of mangrove forests through the afforestation programes.

"We must act fast and now or else risk losing beautifical and economical resource standing tall along our coastlines and above all the lucrative tourism industry".He warned.
The Scientist cum environmentalist however, said that lack of management plans and degradation of mangrove forests had led to loss of ecological footprint and aquaculture which, in effect, has a negative effect on the ecosystem.

Mangrove rehabilitation had seen a rapid increase in productivity of mangroves and improvement of habitat around the afforested areas that were initially degraded and is providing opportunities, especially for the unemployed youth.

Listing other benefits of mangrove rehabilitation, Dr. Kairo said mangroves function like carbon factories by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and helping to convert them into organic material.

According to him areas already being replanted include Gazi bay, Mida, Ngomeni, Kiunga in Kenya; Tanga in Tanzania and Lumbu and Icomati in Mozambique.

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