Coastal Forests and Mangroves: What’s their Role in Local Livelihoods?

D-09: Ecology and Management of Coastal Forests and Mangroves


Have you ever wondered what the reactions would be if a coastal community in, say, Bangladesh woke up to a devastating flood? The obvious attribution would likely be that something “bad” must have happened to their many mangrove tree species, and this reaction might not be far from reality. Mangroves are among the most productive forest ecosystems, providing numerous material resources and ecosystem services to many coastal communities.

Photo by Mokhammad Edliadi for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Photo by Mokhammad Edliadi for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

This session brought together presentations targeting current research on mangroves and other coastal ecosystems, with each presenter describing, within the context of their work, the importance of these resources to local communities. Dr. Tanushree Biswas, a remote sensing specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, used a new method called Z-score NDVI to monitor change over time in a woody deciduous forest in Montana (USA), and a coastal mangrove area in Bangladesh using Landsat data. NDVI is a vegetation index that indicates greenness in vegetation, and the Z-score method can detect subtle changes that might not be apparent in traditional classification techniques. For Montana, the greenness changes coincided with areas associated with fires, while in Bangladesh, maps showed regional variations in mangrove cover change. Dr. Biswas reiterated that such information could be useful for meeting some goals related to REDD+ recommendations.

Two similar talks targeted the documentation of species diversity within mangroves; one in Sarawat Forest (Malaysia) and the other off an island to the east of the Philippines. In both cases, there were high numbers of mangrove species recorded, some of which were considered as endangered or threatened. Together with other existing trees, the mangroves provided critical material and ecosystem services to the local communities. In fact, some rare wildlife species were also found in these forests, and the presenters were visibly excited as these findings offered yet another avenue for expanding their research.

Community participation in the management of natural resources is well recognized as a viable alternative that can minimize conflicts among competing interests. This was the angle from which Mr. Emmanuel Suka from Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry framed his research. He noted, using local narratives, that the people’s survival is intricately tied to the continued provision of material resources from the surrounding coastal forest, which continues to be threatened due to overuse for wood and other uses. He alluded to a community-based management plan that the Ministry ought to implement based on the recommendations of his findings.

We cannot avoid the fact that threats to forest resources, including coastal mangroves, will be there. How well we adaptively manage these resources, with the local communities being at the center of policy formulation, will make all the difference. After all, it is these people who know first-hand about their resources, and will be the first to feel the effects of any perturbations within the system. Research findings such as those presented in this session should provide a framework from which sound management and policy decisions can be formulated.


Written by: Humphrey Kalibo


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