Sunday, 13 December 2015

Mangroves, an invaluable ally against climate change

Mangroves are the rainforests by the sea, found at the boundary where land meets ocean. They serve a wide range of ecological functions, providing economically valuable products and services. Mangroves, once estimated to cover an area of over 36 million hectares, dominated large stretches of tropical coastline. However, due to ongoing development pressures, mangroves are degraded and their area substantially diminished relative to their historic range, less than 15 million hectares remain.

Mangrove forests are vital for healthy coastal ecosystems. The shallow inter-tidal reaches that characterize mangrove wetlands offer refuge and nursery grounds for juvenile fish, crabs, shrimps, and molluscs, and are prime nesting and migratory sites for hundreds of bird species. Additionally, manatees, crab-eating monkeys, monitor lizards, Bengal tigers, sea turtles and mudskipper fish utilize the mangrove wetlands.

Mangroves play a vital role in protecting sea grasses and coral reefs from sediments and pollution, filtering out heavy metals and halting shoreline erosion. Mangroves buffer against hurricane winds, storm surges and tsunamis, saving thousands of lives, while protecting infrastructure. Mangroves are also invaluable in combating climate change!

Mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass beds remove massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and fix it in mangrove soils, where it can remain for millennia. Unlike terrestrial forests, marine wetlands are constantly building carbon pools, storing large amounts of so-called "blue carbon" in highly organic sediments, storing up to 5-times more carbon per unit area than tropical rainforests. Their carbon sequestration potential is significant in helping to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. Including the carbon stored in soils, mangrove forests store the most carbon per hectare of any other forest type.

Deforestation and land-use change currently account for 8-20% of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, second only to fossil fuel combustion. Destruction of mangroves accounts for around 10% of emissions from deforestation globally, despite accounting for just 0.7% of tropical forest area. Moreover, if left undisturbed, the carbon storage by mangroves currently continues to expand through biological sequestration of CO2 and carbon burial. If current trends in conversion continue, however, much of the carbon stored in mangroves along with its future accumulation could be lost.

Mangroves are among the most threatened and rapidly disappearing natural environments worldwide, with a much higher rate of loss than other tropical rainforests. One of the greatest threats to mangroves today is the rapacious shrimp aquaculture industry, which has caused massive mangrove losses in Asia and Latin America. With the current 0.7% rate of loss, most of the world’s mangroves may disappear by the end of this century. Conversion for agriculture or aquaculture, results in massive emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as mangroves change from a sink for carbon to a massive source. This greatly exacerbates the problems of global warming.

Restoring mangrove forests would deliver significant benefits in reducing net greenhouse gas emissions, improving food security and livelihoods of coastal communities, increasing resilience in the face of sea level rise and extreme weather events, and improving habitat for many vulnerable species along extremely biodiverse tropical coastlines.

Alfredo Quarto is the Executive Director and co-founder of the Mangrove Action Project. You can follow Alfredo on Twitter @mangroveap. For more information visit MAP’s website

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Fishing for deadly ghost gear

Ghost Fishing’ is what fishing gear does when it has been lost, dumped or abandoned. Imagine a fishing net that gets snagged on a reef or a wreck and gets detached from the fishing vessel. Nets, longlines, fish traps or any man-made contraptions designed to catch fish or marine organisms are considered capable of ghost fishing when unattended, and without anyone profiting from the catches, they are affecting already depleted commercial fish stocks. Caught fish die and in turn attract scavengers which will get caught in that same net, thus creating a vicious circle.
Ghost fishing longline survey Croatia

Lost fishing gear, or so-called ‘ghost gear’ is one of the greatest killers in the oceans. Literally hundreds of kilometres of nets and lines get lost every year and due to the nature of the materials used to produce these types of gear, they can and will keep fishing for multiple decades, possibly even centuries.
Ghost fishing net survey Croatia

Divers are all too familiar with this phenomenon, especially in well-fished areas. As founders of the Ghost Fishing Foundation we were confronted with ghost gear while diving the many wrecks in the Dutch North Sea. In 2009 we were part of a local team of divers who started to clean those wrecks. After some years of local efforts it was time to broaden the horizon and get in touch with like-minded groups all over the world. And so the Ghost Fishing Foundation was born.
Ghost fishing net survey Croatia

The Ghost Fishing Foundation has been collaborating worldwide with various local groups of divers and salvage companies to remove lost fishing gear. With projects in Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Croatia, United Kingdom and the United States we work on existing projects, set up new ones and document these through visual media, informing a wide audience and raising social awareness. We exchange solutions and best practices by maintaining a steady stream of information through social media, and a website that offers extensive information and possibilities for interaction.

Ghost fishing net recovery Croatia
The Ghost Fishing Foundation recently launched unique collaborations with several well-known organisations like Healthy Seas Initiative, World Animal Protection and Greenpeace and they are part of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI). The GGGI aims to improve the health of marine ecosystems, protect marine animals, and safeguard human health and livelihoods. GGGI was launched in September 2015 and is the first initiative dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost gear on a global scale. The GGGI’s strength lies in the diversity of its participants including the fishing industry, the private sector, academia, governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.

If you would like to know more about ghost fishing gear visit or their social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Pascal van Erp is the founder and chairman of the Ghost Fishing Foundation. You can follow Pascal at @suberp on Twitter.