On July 26th the world celebrates the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem. This is an ideal opportunity to acknowledge the great importance of these forest ecosystems to coastal ecological health, our economy and contribution to addressing the climate crisis. In Suriname, this day is very important to us since mangroves are an invaluable part of our lives and there are innovative methods underway to protect them.
Mangroves in Suriname provide crucial ecological services
Suriname is known for its 93% inland forest coverage. Less well known, is that it also holds an incredible coastal forested area too. Suriname’s mangroves cover an estimated 100.000 hectares, corresponding to 0.5% of its land surface and representing almost 2% of the world’s total mangroves.
Similar to other parts of the world, mangrove ecosystems in Suriname play a significant role in the provision of ecological functions and services such as shoreline protection against erosion, provision of spawning zones for marine wildlife, nurseries for coastal fisheries and habitat for migratory birds.
Mangroves also play a big role in climate change mitigation and adaptation since they capture great amounts of blue carbon and are effective in protecting the low-lying coastal strips from storm surges.
With 90% of the population and much of the country’s infrastructure and economic assets located on the coast, mangroves are our frontline of defense. Unfortunately, these precious resources are in trouble.
Due to local drivers of degradation, namely the low-lying profile of coasts and population density on the shoreline, they are prone to salinization, erosion, and deforestation processes. As a result, coastline settlements in the most important districts of Suriname (i.e., Paramaribo, Wanica, Coronie, and Nickerie) and productive activities such as agriculture are already suffering the severe impacts from erosion and flooding events.
Nature-based solutions help to restore and conserve mangroves
Nature-based solutions, specifically the Building with Nature approach, open a set of opportunities to restore and conserve mangroves in Suriname. These approaches utilize natural processes and materials as part of the infrastructure development process aimed at addressing socio-environmental challenges in a sustainable manner.
This innovative technique, developed in Suriname from local knowledge and expertise, is helping to establish conditions essential for mangrove and biodiversity conservation and the enhancement of the quantity of the blue carbon sequestered in coastal areas. This approach aims to harness the benefits of nature to complement and/or substitute traditional engineering designs such as dams and dikes, which use expensive and carbon-intensive cement and metal.
Through the construction of Sediment Trapping Units (STUs), structures similar to a dam are put in place, which reduces the force of incoming waves and stimulates the deposition of sediments. STUs are also effective structures that help to protect coastal settlements and economic activity by acting as a buffer zone to mitigate swells and storms during storms and hurricanes. Both the deposition of sediments and the buffer effect are processes essential for the regeneration and restoration of mangroves, especially in combination with other techniques such as mangrove nurseries.
The Anton de Kom University in Suriname, together with local partners, is deploying these techniques, particularly in the Weg naar Zee and Coronie areas. To date, the results are promising, and the goal is to expand the utilization of STUs to other areas, especially in the Nickerie District in the surroundings of the Bigi Pan Multiple Management Area.
The restoration of mangroves through Building with Nature techniques represent a great opportunity. First, they are made of discarded material such as bamboo and wallaba wood, which would otherwise be burned. Second, mangroves represent a more aesthetic and cheaper alternative to dams and dikes. Finally, they foster other ecological processes that benefit birds and other species.
Mangrove restoration in Suriname is a great opportunity for all
Mangroves provide countless opportunities for Suriname and the region. Their sustainable management can be approached from the perspectives of the Blue Economy, urban resilience, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
They also contribute to economic development and recovery, especially during times of crisis. For example, the ecosystem services mangroves provide to the tourism sector can be seen as catalysts of economic diversification and employment generation.
The IDB is a key ally in promoting the sustainable management of mangroves in Suriname and the Caribbean. For example, we supported the Government of Suriname with enhancing the ambition of its second Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) in which mangroves feature prominently. This new ambition establishes a series of goals to help ensure their protection and management.
In Jamaica, we are also supporting mangrove restoration through the project “Blue Carbon Restoration in Southern Clarendon”. The project is supported by the UK Blue Carbon Fund of the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and it is designed to restore more than 1,000 hectares of degraded mangrove and foster ecosystem-based livelihood alternatives.
Suriname is a mangrove paradise that needs our attention and support. The best way to celebrate them today is to learn more. It is key to promote their restoration and conservation to enhance social resilience, achieve a more sustainable future and to ensure future generations also benefit from them. Happy International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem!
Toorman E.A. et al. (2018) Interaction of Mangroves, Coastal Hydrodynamics, and Morphodynamics Along the Coastal Fringes of the Guianas. In: Makowski C., Finkl C. (eds) Threats to Mangrove Forests. Coastal Research Library, vol 25. Springer, Cham.
Photo: Pexels – Tom Fisk
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