08 August, 2023
Reading time 6 – 8 minutes
Mangroves are found in over 118 countries and territories around the world. Inhabiting the wetter regions of the tropics and subtropics, mangroves play an important role in promoting biodiversity, carbon management and protecting coastlines.
In the south of Bangladesh, women are leading efforts to conserve these critical ecosystems. Read more about their stories below.
Special thanks to our CEO Ayman Rahman for his dedication to the conservation of mangrove habitats. With his support, we have not only accelerated our efforts in safeguarding these vital ecosystems but also fostered strong partnerships with grassroots movements to create a positive and lasting impact.
We would also like to extend our sincere gratitude to Maksudur Rahman and the team from the Bangladesh Environment and Development Society ‘BEDS’. Our partnership comes at a critical juncture where the need for community-led restoration has never been more pronounced.
Finally, we would like to recognise Nomita Mondol (pictured right) for her outstanding efforts. Nomita is one of the first women within the Khulna district to have established their own mangrove nurseries, defying societal expectations and empowering other women in the local community.
Mangrove forests are located in the space where land meets sea. You can think of them as living between two worlds.
These unique and diverse ecosystems, characterised by salt-tolerant trees and shrubs, form dense habitats along tropical and sub-tropical coastlines, including parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, the Americas and the Pacific Islands.
Although not the only trees to withstand brackish waters, mangroves are uniquely adapted to thrive in intertidal zones where seawater and freshwater mix. Their waxy leaves help minimise salt absorption, allowing them to maintain a delicate balance of
salinity within their tissues.
However, as an amphibious ecosystem, the mangrove has suffered from the impacts of both land and sea.
The sea poses formidable challenges, with erosion, storms and rising sea levels threatening the natural defence infrastructure provided by mangroves.
On the other hand, human activities such as deforestation, shrimp farming and mis management of water resources exerts adverse effects on these critical ecosystems.
It’s estimated that more than half of the world’s GDP – equivalent to USD ~58 trillion – is moderately or highly dependent on nature.
Spanning 14,070,000 hectares of land globally, mangroves forests are among the world’s most economically valuable ecosystems.
Beyond their adaptations to salinity, mangroves serve as crucial ecosystems to their surrounding areas.
The United Nations ‘UN’ has declared 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ecological Restoration. For mangrove projects around the world, this has served as a rallying call in the fight against the escalating threats of mangrove area decline.
Whereas these forests once covered more than 20,000,000 hectares of coastal lands, they are now at risk of disappearing entirely within the next 100 years.
The Sundarbans – one of the largest of such forests – is undergoing extensive degradation of the health of its ecosystem and fragmentation of its landscape, which results in mangrove area decline, water and soil salinisation and loss of flora and fauna.
On a global scale, the rate of mangrove loss surpasses that of tropical rainforests or coral reefs, yet it often receives considerably less attention.
Papua New Guinea (PNG)
In PNG and other Melanesian countries, the driving forces behind mangrove losses
Since mangrove forests can store up to 4 times the amount of carbon than tropical forests – this is amongst the highest capacity of all blue carbon ecosystems – deforestation presents a significant risk to reducing and managing carbon emissions.
Under a business-as-usual scenario – where nothing is done to mitigate this risk – one study predicts that global emissions from mangrove loss could reach 2,391 Tg CO2 by the end of the 21st century – the equivalent of 515,186,935 gasoline powered passenger vehicles driven for one year.
And the negative effects do not stop there - where mangroves are removed to accommodate the rapidly expanding aquaculture industry, the threat to biodiversity becomes profound. Shrimp farms – which are linked to as much as 38% of global mangrove deforestation – require large amounts of water and are consequently found alongside rivers and estuaries. During the conversion of wetlands to shrimp farms, seawater is diverted inland to supply their ponds.
This disturbs the balance between freshwater and seawater, to the point that tensions between rice and shrimp farmers have grown considerably over
In the village of Harinkhola in Polder 22, Bangladesh, resistance to the expansion of the aquaculture industry was so acute that it led to the death of Korunamoyee Sardar – a local protestor who remains a symbol of the struggle for indigenous rights.
In the river deltas of southern Bangladesh, rising sea levels have forced farmers to abandon their rice crops in droves and they have had to find other ways to make a living.
“This shouldn’t be surprising. For many who
reside near the coast, the aquaculture industry
is their only source of income.”
- Maksudur Rahman, BEDS.
Instead, shrimp farms – which are endorsed by the Bangladeshi government and a host of development organisations including The World Bank – have taken precedence.
The Food and Agriculture Organization ‘FAO’ of the UN estimate that about 4.5 million tonnes of farmed marine shrimp entered the international trade in 2019 – that is more than the amount caught by fishing.
In the south of Bengal, BEDS has adopted a community-led approach to restoring mangroves.
They work alongside local people to develop appropriate disaster and risk management protocols that protect both nature and communities. In addition to providing training and education on ecosystem management, BEDS equip
locals with the resources to be able to grow their own mangrove nurseries independently.
BEDS has been actively involved in projects related to mangrove conservation and restoration in Bangladesh, particularly in the Sundarbans region, which is one of the world's largest mangrove forests and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Their efforts aim to protect the rich biodiversity of the Sundarbans and the livelihoods of the local communities who depend on its resources.
Before pursuing any conservation project, BEDS begin by engaging the local people and organising a series of educational workshops.
This bottom-up approach fosters a sense of ownership and stewardship among the local people and communities, inspiring them to be active partners in preserving their environment for future generations.
The climate crisis is not gender neutral. Women and girls experience more of its impact, which amplifies existing gender inequalities and poses unique challenges to their livelihoods, health and safety.
Particularly in developing countries, coastal communities are directly dependent on products and services gained from mangrove forest ecosystems including shellfish, timber, algae etc.
With mangrove forests acting as a lifeline for these communities, their disappearance translates into reduced access to essential resources, thereby affecting women's ability to support their families and secure livelihoods.
Moreover, as traditional roles often assign women the responsibility of water and food collection, the loss of mangroves disrupts these practices and forces women to travel greater distances to find resources, exposing them to additional risks and vulnerabilities.
Since starting her mangrove nursery, Nomita Mondol has seen great improvement to her life and community. Income earned from raising mangrove seedlings has helped her make improvements to the structural integrity of her home - which is especially important given the number of cyclones that take place in Bangladesh - and pay off her remaining debts.
But Nomita is more than just a success story. She represents resilience, determination and the spirit of environmental stewardship. Defying gender norms, Nomita demonstrates that women can be powerful agents of change in environmental conservation.
Although Nomita initially received training under BEDS’ guidance, she now currently oversees the management of her mangrove nursery independently.
But in an environment where economic concerns outweigh other considerations, Nomita initially faced a lot of resistance from the local community.
Raising mangrove seedlings was seen as a secondary or less significant activity compared to other livelihood options that promised more immediate financial gains.
However, as a champion of climate adaptation, Nomita continued to advocate for the importance of restoring mangrove habitats. As a result, five more self-sufficient mangrove nurseries were set up by locals, who were inspired by Nomita's dedication and the growing awareness of the importance of mangrove restoration in the community.
When we first met Nomita in Bangladesh, she had just endured the devastating aftermath of Cyclone Sitrang. The cyclone's destructive force had left a profound impact on her and the community, resulting in the devastating loss of 15,000 of her seedlings in the nursery.
Despite this immense setback, Nomita's resilience and determination remained unwavering as she committed herself to rebuilding her nursery and continuing her mission to restore mangrove habitats.
In fact, during periods of high tides, Nomita has developed her own methods for protecting the mangrove seedlings. Seedlings are usually just a few inches tall and may have only a few leaves. At this stage, they are vulnerable and require specific conditions, such as proper water levels and salinity, to survive and establish themselves in the mangrove habitat.
Her journey from a learner to an empowered leader reflects the lasting impact of organisations like BEDS, which equip women with the tools and knowledge to take charge of their own futures and contribute to the protection of valuable natural resources.
Nomita is currently saving a portion of her income towards building a shelter for her mangrove seedlings.
Globally, there are over 80,000 hectares of coastal land where mangroves have been lost but where restoration may be possible, with over two-thirds of these being highly restorable.
Mangrove restoration can support the implementation of many
international agreements, such as:
Dare is committed to supporting nature-based solutions that improve both environmental health and the overall livelihoods of communities most affected by climate change.
In partnership with BEDS, we are dedicated to securing a sustainable future for the region.