According to the Cambridge English dictionary, the verb regenerate means ‘to improve a place or system’ or ‘to grow again’, while the OED defines it as bringing ‘new and vigorous life to an area’.
For almost a quarter of a century, our project partner the Mangrove Action Project (MAP) has done exactly that through its work to protect and restore mangrove habitats around the world. As research into these ecosystems intensifies and understanding deepens, it is becoming clear just how vital mangrove forests are to our environment. Not only do they act as important natural barriers to reduce the impact of severe weather events, and provide shelter and a nursery for many of the fish which make up our largest fisheries and populate coral reefs, but they are also extremely effective at absorbing and storing carbon, a feature they share with other coastal ecosystems, sometimes known as blue carbon.
MAP’s approach relies on collaboration and community participation.
Over the years they have been able to bring together an influential global network of mangrove experts and NGOs, organizing training and education workshops and disseminating good practice throughout the mangrove conservation community.
In Krabi and Trang provinces in Southern Thailand, MAP works with local communities to rehabilitate abandoned shrimp ponds, restoring mangroves and the biodiversity that comes with them. They also work with community leaders to develop and implement alternative livelihood initiatives such as apiculture (beekeeping) and ecotourism.
MAP’s work began in the early 1990s in response to a massive expansion of shrimp farms across Southern and Southeast Asia. They began to build a network to coordinate advocacy and efforts to counter some of the negative impacts of this destructive industry. Starting in India, they subsequently expanded their range to work in other countries with important mangrove habitats around the world. As they grew, their role and approach began to evolve, eventually becoming today’s five-pronged approach which includes networking, advocacy, education, conservation and restoration, an approach which places sustainable community-based development at its heart.
A typical approach to restoring or rehabilitating damaged areas of forest or mangrove is to go in for mass planting of (usually) a single species of mangrove. While this may be of some benefit, it does not restore the biodiversity of the ecosystem. MAP uses an approach called CBEMR – Community Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration.
Two key concepts underpin this approach: Firstly, in order for a project to be successful, it must involve the community at all stages and levels of the process.
This is not just for the physical work of preparation and planting, but from the outset finding out what the community needs, what works for them and to what extent they can and want to help and be involved.
Secondly, mangrove restoration takes time, and where possible the work should be done by nature.
In other words, you need to focus on and understand the features – e.g. the hydrology and topography – which allow for a healthy mangrove, and attempt to recreate these conditions before letting nature take its course. There may need to be some small-scale planting, but in order for a truly bio-diverse ecosystem to be restored, the ultimate aim for MAP projects and the community is to recreate the conditions in which nature can flourish. This is where the research and expertise of MAP staff, combined with local knowledge and community involvement can contribute to lasting and meaningful regeneration of the environment.
Another exciting initiative which MAP are involved with is an IUCN project known as EPIC (Ecosystems Protecting Infrastructure and Communities). Working with a number of different NGO and development partners, MAP are helping to demonstrate the role and effectiveness of mangroves in helping to reduce and mitigate against potential environmental disasters and the impacts of climate change.
The work of MAP demonstrates that regeneration is not necessarily something which can be measured by the number of trees planted, the area of ocean in square kilometres protected or the quantity of seeds sown. The challenge is far greater than that, one which requires long-term commitment, but one which will ultimately benefit communities and the environment by cultivating a greater awareness of the importance of biodiversity and restoring a healthier ecosystem.
MAP is a small, incredibly dedicated organization whose impact on mangrove conservation is far greater than the sum of its parts. In Thailand, their approach has attracted the interest of the Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), who recently visited one of their projects and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to trial the CBEMR approach in various sites. Their focus on practical solutions and ability to influence decision-makers and spread good practice is why Synchronicity Earth chose to support the Mangrove Action Project. They are a good fit for our Regeneration Portfolio because they:
- Understand the importance of genuine community participation and buy-in for successful restoration projects.
- Actively work to develop alternative livelihoods to mitigate against more environmentally destructive practices.
- Share knowledge and build networks to help spread good practice.
- Partner with NGOs on the ground to take advantage of local knowledge and build on existing community connections and groups.
- Focus on advocacy and bringing their models and thinking to government departments and international bodies.
- Realise the importance and potential of environmental education, developing the Marvellous Mangroves Curriculum, and using video and social media effectively to spread their message.
For more about their approach, see this MAP slideshow.
Photos: Jim Pettiward