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International Mangrove Day: Moratorium Momentum?

  • Date:
    02 Aug 2020
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The 26th of July 2015 was proclaimed as the international mangrove day by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). UNESCO does use the term proclamation in its decisions. The complete decision reads like this: Proclamation of the International Day for the Mangrove Ecosystem Conservation. The mangrove ecosystem itself is linked to several UNESCO programs, such as the Man and the Biosphere (MAB), Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS), the International Hydrological (IHP), as well as the World Heritage Convention and the Global Geoparks Network.


It is recorded that more than 80 areas of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) have mangrove components, including the famous ones; La Selle in Haiti, Shankou Mangrove in China, and Can Gio Mangrove in Viet Nam. A world heritage site with a mangrove ecosystem that is quite popular is on the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati. Meanwhile, the mangrove ecosystem that is used as a geopark is the Langkawi Global Geopark in Malaysia.


Ecuador proposes the establishment of this international mangrove day with the support of GRULAC (Group of Latin America and the Caribbean). Ecuador and GRULAC member countries for the past dozen years have celebrated mangrove day every 26th of July. On that day, in 1998, there was a significant action in Ecuador involving environmental organizations from several neighboring countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and Colombia.


This action voiced rejection of rampant mangrove logging. Tragically, one of the environmental activists who took part in the joint action suffered a heart attack and died. The incident on the 26th of July 1998 became an emotional moment for the people of Ecuador and its surroundings so that it is celebrated every year as mangrove day.


The main trigger for this mangrove action is the rampant creation of shrimp ponds by clearing the mangrove ecosystem to meet the high demand for shrimp commodity markets from America, Europe, and Japan. Unfortunately, the conversion of mangroves to ponds is done blindly. In fact, many local people have been evicted from their land, while on the other hand, the land and water are polluted.

Indonesian Mangrove Action

The conversion of mangroves into ponds is not only happening in Ecuador but also in various countries. Globally, according to Ellison (2008), the transformation of mangroves to ponds accounts for 52% of mangrove loss on the planet.


The same condition occurs in Indonesia, where the main cause of mangrove loss is the conversion of mangroves into ponds. The problem is complex as part of the converted pond land becomes unproductive and thus abandoned.


In Brebes in the 1980s, for example, there was a massive conversion of mangroves into ponds. Just like in Ecuador, the opening of this shrimp pond is to meet the very high demand of the world market. But unfortunately, pond management is carried out in a not environmentally friendly way, so crop failures often occur. In the end, these ponds became abandoned and neglected. On the other hand, coastal abrasion began to haunt residential areas along with the loss of mangroves as coastal protection. Some families were forced to leave their hometowns.


This fact raises the awareness of village youth to carry out mangrove rehabilitation. The village youths led by Mashadi succeeded in replanting mangroves which were later developed into a popular ecotourism area. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 1,000 tourists from various regions came to this mangrove ecotourism area every holiday season. Of course, there is a multiplier effect on the local economy.


Apart from Brebes, other areas have proven the role of mangroves as natural coast protectors during the tsunami disaster. When the tsunami hit Aceh in 2004, Simeulue was one of the areas with the smallest casualties because its dense mangrove ecosystem was able to dampen the energy of the tsunami waves. Also, because of the well-maintained local wisdom in dealing with the smong (tsunami).


The same story happened in Kabonga Besar, Donggala, when the tsunami hit Palu Bay in 2018. The casualties were relatively small compared to other areas in Palu Bay. Thanks to the villagers’ effort in taking good care of the mangroves for years with the coastal fort formation.


Mangrove conservation actions in various areas raise awareness that losing mangroves means significant losses. Apart from providing fisheries and forestry commodities, mangrove ecosystems have been recognized as coast protectors, contributors to climate change mitigation, and other ecosystem services.


The government recognizes local actions in these areas by giving national appreciation in the form of the Kalpataru award. Mashadi is one of the recipients of Kalpataru from Brebes, which was awarded directly by the President of the Republic of Indonesia. Apart from Mashadi, several other local figures received the Kalpataru award for their wholehearted fight in mangrove conservation, such as Aziil Anwar from Majene (West Sulawesi), Ishak Idris from Sabang City (Aceh), Agus Bei from Balikpapan (East Kalimantan), and other regional figures.


Mangrove Moratorium?

However, it is important to note that the awareness of local communities in saving mangroves is still partial and uneven in all Indonesian regions. There are still many areas that don’t think long enough to cut down the remaining mangroves. Nationally, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (2015) reported that 1.82 million hectares of Indonesian mangroves are damaged; it is more than half of the national mangroves. Therefore, a more significant push is needed from the government to protect mangroves by making a national mangrove logging moratorium policy.


This moratorium policy is vital because Indonesia is listed as a country with the most extensive mangrove ecosystem globally, with more than 3 million hectares. On the other hand, the level of mangrove deforestation is quite high, reaching 52,000 hectares per year (Murdiyarso et al., 2015).


With the moratorium policy, the remaining mangroves must be maintained intact. There should be no longer cutting of mangroves in the area. Meanwhile, abandoned ponds are being rehabilitated into mangroves.


How about the economy? Several menus can be selected to support the mangrove moratorium.


First, if there is a pond investment plan, it can be directed to abandoned pond land to be revitalized instead of converting mangrove ecosystems. It is even better if what is being developed is environmentally friendly ponds, such as organic ponds, silvofishery, etc.


Second, catching the mud crabs that will bring benefits to the local community. By maintaining the mangrove ecosystem, the abundance of the mangrove crab population will be maintained, so that the local community can catch it, ff course, by obeying the principles of sustainable fisheries, such as the minimum size of crabs that can be caught. For example, women in Kaimana, West Papua, have been fishing for mangrove crabs for years because the mangrove forests are well preserved.


Third, developing mangrove ecotourism, as has been done in Brebes and other areas in Indonesia. With mangrove ecotourism, the community gets economic benefits while maintaining the mangrove ecology. Biodiversity in the mangrove ecosystem is the main attraction for tourists. Several types of birds that migrate from various countries and transit in mangrove forests are also exciting for visitors.


Fourth, the implementation of sustainable funding mechanisms, such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), carbon trading (including blue carbon), PES (Payment for Ecosystem Services), and so on. It is admittedly not easy to implement a sustainable funding mechanism, but it can be done. The Indonesian government has just provided an example of how efforts to implement a REDD mechanism paid off by obtaining funding from Norway amounting to USD 56 million.


In short, it is no time to argue between conservation and the economy. Both can be done in harmony as long as there is a will. As the old saying goes; where there is a will, there is a way. With the momentum of International Mangrove Day, isn’t this the right time to carry out a moratorium on mangrove logging?


Written by Rony Megawanto, Program Director of the KEHATI Foundation.