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A New Paradigm on Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration

  • Date:
    15 Sep 2021
  • Author:

Written by:

Associate Professor in Forest Ecology and Tropical Biodiversity Conservation

Forestry Faculty of North Sumatra University

Onrizal, Ph.D.


World Mangrove Day

On July 26, 2016, for the first time, the World Mangrove Day was commemorated globally. The establishment of this date was based on the 38C/66 Resolution produced by UNESCO General Conference in Paris on November 6, 2015, as a response to Ecuador’s proposal. In this resolution, the commemoration of the World Mangrove Day was officially named “International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem,” but was more well-known as “World Mangrove Day.” Then, every year, this date is commemorated as the World Mangrove Day, aiming to (a) increase global awareness on the important value of mangrove ecosystem as a unique and special ecosystem, yet in a threatened condition, and (b) promote various solutions for its sustainable management, conservation, and use.[1]


Mangrove is a type of forest dominated by trees or shrubs growing in coastal ebb and flow areas across tropical and sub-tropical regions. Mangrove plants are able to adapt in a habitat that is unstable, has a lack of oxygen, and is filled with brackish water and flooded during ebbs. The total area of mangroves is only around 1% of total tropical forest areas, or only around 0.4% of total global forest areas. Therefore, mangrove is only a small part of the world’s forests. But why is it so important that there is even a special day to globally commemorate it?


The Important Value of Mangrove

The tsunami disaster on December 26, 2004, was recorded as the most deadly natural disaster in the modern history, claiming the lives of almost 230,000 victims.[2] However, various scientific publications based on field researches after this devastating disaster in Asia and Africa showed that good mangrove forests were able to protect lives and villages behind them.[3] On the other hand, many victims were located on areas where the mangrove was lost or damaged and fragmented. In addition, a good mangrove is also proven to protect coastal areas from stormy winds, abrasion, and sea level raise.[4] Therefore, mangrove forests are physically critical to protect communities and coastal resources from natural disasters, especially Indonesia as an archipelago, where its most outer islands are protected by mangrove forests. If these mangrove forests are lost, then abrasion occurs and these most outer islands disappear, what will happen to Indonesia’s borders?[5]


Mangrove’s wet land has been well-known as a place for coastal biota to lay eggs, spawn, raise, and finding food and play. Some or the whole life cycle of such biota depends on the mangrove ecosystem. Mangrove forest is noted as the beginning of the coastal ecosystem food chain. For example, the life cycle of almost all shrimps captured in the Southeast Asian waters is heavily dependent on mangrove forest. Each time 1,000 ha mangrove is lost, fishers on average lose about 112.8 ton of captured shrimps. Around 2/3 of fish only live in good mangrove, and these fish are not seen in damaged, let alone lost, mangrove forests.[6] The loss of mangrove forest at the east coast of North Sumatra was recorded to cause various types of marine biota to become endangered or not be captured at all. Subsequently, capture fishers’ income drastically decreases.[7]Thus, mangrove forests are not only important to conserve coastal marine biota, but also essential in supporting the economic security of fisher communities and becoming a source of protein for our children.


Various researches show that the mangrove forest ecosystem is able to store almost 5 times the carbon compared to the tropical rainforest ecosystem[8], and up to 10 times compared to most ecosystem on earth.[9]On the other hand, mangrove damages and losses trigger the release of carbon and methane as important elements of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) that cause global warming. Therefore, conserving good mangrove forests and rehabilitating damaged mangrove are crucial in the effort to mitigate climate change and prevent global warming.


These facts are some of the important values of mangrove ecosystem for human lives, starting from the local, regional, and global scale. However, on the other hand, mangrove damages and losses continue to happen, and at times in a much higher pace. Indonesia is recorded as the country with the largest mangrove forest in the world, but at the same time also has the highest contribution on the loss of the world’s mangrove. During2000-2012, Indonesia was recorded as a country that lost the largest mangrove forest area in Southeast Asia[10] and the world.[11] During this period, almost half of the loss of Indonesia’s mangrove forest was caused by conversion into embankments, then followed by conversion into palm oil plantations. During the next period until 2020, conversion into palm oil plantations exceeded conversion into embankments, just like what happened at the eastern coast of North Sumatra.[12] Not to mention numerous activities that damaged the mangrove forest increased the vulnerability of coastal areas against natural disasters and threatened the resiliency of coastal communities and the state. Thus, there must be a national strategic policy on stopping the conversion of mangrove forests into other uses.


At the same time, there has to be a significant improvement regarding efforts to restore and rehabilitate damaged mangrove forests, both in the form of open lands, former embankments, and so on. This is important and must be done immediately in relation with the 600,000 ha mangrove rehabilitation in Indonesia in 2020-2024, so that we do not repeat the mistakes and failures suffered in previous activities. From a myriad of reports from the field, as reported by numerous media, various mangrove rehabilitation activities in 2020 suffered failure.[13]


A New Paradigm of Mangrove Restoration Strategy

Restoration and rehabilitation as efforts to restore mangrove are more than planting or do not stop at mangrove planting activities. For mangrove rehabilitation labor intensive activities that were started in 2020, for example, the cost was calculated based on Man Days (HOK) as wages and buying materials such as providing seeds, bamboo for markers and protecting plants.[14] What about after planting? How will we be held accountable if plants failed after a few months of being planted, while the cost paid for this was in the forms of wages and to buy materials? Thus, this old paradigm needs to be stopped. Mangrove rehabilitation is not identical with mangrove planting.


Various field reports exposed by the media served as evidence of these failures, not only because they were merely planting activities, but also due to the fact that mangrove restoration needed to consider a unique land condition or ecological aspect in relation with the suitability between the right type of mangroves planted and the land condition they are being planted on. Different types of mangroves have different adaptation to their habitat, which is known as mangrove zoning. This is just a small part of the ecological aspect often ignored in mangrove rehabilitation activities. Usually, almost all of the mangroves planted are Rhizophora spp., specifially Rhizophora apiculata. In fact, Indonesia is recorded as a country with the richest types of mangrove plants/trees in the world. When these types are planted on the wrong location, despite still within the mangrove ecosystem, it is hard for the plants to live. Most likely they will die.[15] As a result, rehabilitation activities fail to achieve their goal of restoring the condition of the mangrove ecosystem.[16]


Failing to meet the ecological aspect means a guaranteed failure in restoring/rehabilitating mangrove. However, when the ecological aspect is met, which guarantees success at the early stages (with mangrove plants growing well), mangrove will still not survive for long if other aspects are not met. These other aspects, together with the ecological aspect, which become the success recipe for mangrove restoration, are social and economic aspects (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Hypothesis for the success of mangrove ecosystem rehabilitation with various combination of rehabilitation/restoration aspect considerations: ecological, social, and economy. Line B-D is rehabilitation that considers the integrated aspects of ecological, social, and economy, thus providing the highest success guarantee for the rehabilitation program, attaining the double benefits of mangrove forests. Line B-D” is rehabilitation that considers ecological and social aspects, but ignores economic benefits to the coastal community. This will result in medium success rate and the community will go back to conducting damaging exploitations for their livelihoods. Line B-D’ is rehabilitation that only considers the ecological aspect. As a result, the community does not feel a sense of responsibility to maintain it, and will soon conduct damaging exploitations to fulfil their economic needs. C is a depiction of status quo scenario or no improvement (modified from Biswas et al., 2009[17] and Onrizal, 2014[18]).


Graphic translation

Keutuhan Ekosistem Mangrove Integrity of Mangrove Ecosystem
Kurva degradasi Degradation curve
Awal rehabilitasi Start rehabilitation
Rehabilitasi mangrove berdasarkan pertimbangan ekologi saja Mangrove rehabilitation based only on ecological consideration
Rehabilitasi mangrove bersadarkan ekologi dan sosial namun tidak mempertimbangkan keuntungan ekonomi masyarakat Mangrove rehabilitation based on ecological and social aspects, but does not consider the community’s economic benefits
Rehabilitasi mangrove berdasarkan pertimbangan ekologi, sosial, dan ekonomi Mangrove rehabilitation based on ecological, social, and economic considerations
Waktu Time


In summary, mangrove rehabilitation activities, starting from planning to implementation and monitoring andevaluation, integrate rehabilitation elements such as the right reason (why), the right objective (what), the right approach (how), the appropriate location (where), the right time/moment (when), and the responsible parties (whom). The accuracy in translating the mangrove ecosystem rehabilitation concept into rehabilitation activities is the key factor in determining the success of mangrove rehabilitation. Developing planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluating rehabilitation program by wholeheartedly considering three related aspects, namely ecology, social, and economy. This mangrove ecosystem rehabilitation concept is elaborated into 6 main steps that serve as a guideline to mangrove ecosystem rehabilitation practices (Table 1). The detailed steps of each of these main steps need to be elaborated further in another place and time.


Table 1. Stages and activities in each stage of mangrove rehabilitation

Stage Activity
1. Identifying issues and the overarching objective of rehabilitation
2. Synthesize the past and present ecosystem condition, especially the ecological structure and function as well as the community’s dependency to mangrove resources
3. Developing a systematic overview of the rehabilitation plan (ecological engineering)
4. Developing community engagement and income subsidy plan (economic-social engineering), including developing mangrove rehabilitation business, for example ecotourism, developing mangrove-based food and beverage products, and its market search.
5. Developing detailed implementation plan (layout of how to implement various activities under different plans)
6. Developing and implementing a tight supervisory mechanism for a logical adaptive management.



The author has practiced this paradigm of mangrove rehabilitation by integrating ecological, social, and economic aspects with the community and various elements of the nation in many areas in Sumatra[19] , other locations in various regions in Indonesia[20], and other tropical areas. The ecological aspect is the life of mangrove rehabilitation activities. Early engagement of local community living in proximity to the rehabilitation location becomes a connecting bridge that implies that rehabilitation is an activity done by everyone, not just a project. This creates ownership from the start that does not get severed when the formal contract duration of the rehabilitation project ends. This activity is then followed by developing resource-based economy from the mangrove rehabilitation activity, such as ecotourism, development of mangrove-based food and beverage products, and its market search.


Improvements starting from the planning to implementation aspect, along with monitoring and evaluation, must be done. Hopefully, with an integrated mangrove rehabilitation, the damaged mangroves can be restored, and this can support the community and state’s resilience, and contribute globally in mitigating climate change and preventing global warming. Happy World Mangrove Day!


[1] See further in https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/mangroveday

[2] See further in https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/2004-indian-ocean-earthquake-tsunami-facts

[3] See further in https://onrizal.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/tsunami-mangrove-dan-kepedulian-kita/

[4] See further in https://www.nature.org/media/oceansandcoasts/mangroves-for-coastal-defence.pdf

[5] See further in https://isnet.or.id/mangrove-penjaga-keutuhan-tanah-air/

[6] Read further in Onrizal dkk. (2020, May). The Correlation Between Mangroves and Coastal Aquatic Biota. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 1542 (1), 012064 di https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1742-6596/1542/1/012064/meta

[7] Read further in https://www.voaindonesia.com/a/luas-hutan-bakau-di-pesisir-timur-sumatra-utara-terus-terdegradasi/5391601.html

[8] Read further in Donato dkk. (2011). Mangroves among the most carbon-rich forests in the tropics. Nature geoscience, 4(5), 293-297 di https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo1123%C2%A0

[9] Read further in Adame dkk. (2021). Future carbon emissions from global mangrove forest loss. Global Change Biology, 27(12), 2856-2866 di https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/gcb.15571 or in https://news.griffith.edu.au/2021/04/15/new-research-determines-high-price-of-mangrove-loss/

[10] Read further in Richards, D. R., & Friess, D. A. (2016). Rates and drivers of mangrove deforestation in Southeast Asia, 2000–2012. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(2), 344-349 in https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/113/2/344.full.pdf

[11] Read further in Bryan-Brown dkk. (2020). Global trends in mangrove forest fragmentation. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 1-8 in https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-63880-1

[12] Read further in https://www.rmolsumut.id/mangrove-di-pantai-timur-sumatera-utara-semakin-kritis

[13] For example, read in https://www.jabejabe.co/17-000-mangrove-ditanam/, https://www.viva.co.id/berita/nasional/1368358-puluhan-hektare-tanaman-mangrove-program-pen-rusak-diterjang-ombak,

[14] Read further in https://www.mongabay.co.id/2020/10/24/padat-karya-penanaman-600-ribu-hektare-mangrove-di-34-provinsi-dimulai/

[15] Read further in https://onrizal.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/2013e1_1.pdf

[16] For example, read in https://www.mongabay.co.id/2016/01/02/mencermati-kondisi-mangrove-11-tahun-pasca-tsunami-aceh/

[17] Read further in Biswas dkk. (2009). A unified framework for the restoration of Southeast Asian mangroves—bridging ecology, society and economics. Wetlands Ecology Management, 17, 365–383 in https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11273-008-9113-7

[18] Read further in Onrizal (2014). Merancang Program Rehabilitasi Mangrove yang Terpadu dan Partisipatif. Wanamina, 3 (2), 6-11 di https://onrizal.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/isi-edisi2-tahun-2014_onrizal-artikel.pdf

[19] Read further in https://www.mongabay.co.id/2019/05/27/jadi-sumber-ekonomi-warga-tidak-akan-lagi-mangrove-dirusak-di-lubuk-kertang/, https://onrizal.wordpress.com/2008/11/28/ketika-mangrove-mulai-pulih/

[20] Read further in https://www.celebes.co/hutan-mangrove-tongke-tongke