We must protect our saltmarshes, says Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey

Therese Coffey. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Therese Coffey. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Thursday, July 26 is International Day for the Conservation of Mangroves, and what better time to celebrate these unique and delicate ecosystems.

Mangroves provide so much for coastal communities around the globe, from food to flood protection. This international day of celebration is organised by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and aims to make people around the globe think about the importance of these increasingly rare, wildlife-rich habitats.

What is a Mangrove?

A mangrove is a forest habitat that straddles the coastline of many tropical countries including Madagascar and Indonesia which forms the boundary between where the land finishes and the ocean starts. The plants have adapted to live in salt water and nutrient-rich mud and instantly recognisable large root structures give mangroves some of their special features. These natural structures protect against tidal impact, prevent flooding, and provide shelter and nursery grounds to fish and many other types of marine life. This makes them productive fisheries providing livelihoods for communities, as well as homes for other types of wildlife including crocodiles and tigers.

Why do mangroves matter to the UK?

In the UK, saltmarshes play a similar role in defending our coastline from storm surges and other coastal flooding events. The mangrove forest is the tropical equivalent and both are threatened by development, pollution and rising sea levels; without them our natural environment would be depleted and our cities and towns exposed.

As MP for Suffolk Coastal, I am already well aware of the multiple benefits attributed to the amazing saltmarshes along our estuaries supporting nature, flood defences and carbon. They really are the coastal peat of our country.

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What are we doing to help?

That is why in 2016 I approved, through International Climate Finance, the establishment of the ‘Blue Forests’ initiative run by the UK organisation, Blue Ventures. The aim of the project is to reduce deforestation of mangrove habitat, create new sustainable livelihoods, support community health and women’s empowerment and increase climate resilience in coastal communities.

The UK, through our overseas development funding, has committed £10.1 million to this programme over a period of seven years – protecting mangroves and some of the poorest coastal communities around the world. We expect the Blue Forests programme to protect around 20,000 hectares of mangrove forests, deliver around 13.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide savings and benefit over 100,000 people.

After its first year, particular highlights included increasing the number of hectares of mangrove forest protected or under sustainable local management to 5,700 hectares; creating and implementing 11 sustainable community-owned mangrove forestry management plans; and the development and integration of multiple alternative livelihoods.

For example bee keeping, which has trained eight beekeepers across three villages, provided 149 kg of honey this year alone and whose ongoing trials involve the Malagasy Women’s Association in Madagascar.

Over its lifetime, the programme will replicate and scale these models for community focussed, sustainable mangrove management into Indonesia and another location in South East Asia.

Delivering real change for our environment is necessary at home and abroad if we are to make a significant impact on climate change and many of the other challenges associated with a warming climate. By protecting the mangroves of the tropics we will reduce carbon in the atmosphere and ensure those communities that rely on them have flood and storm protection for future generations.

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