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Earth Today | Marine ecologist weighs in on local mangrove stress

Published:Thursday | September 16, 2021 | 12:08 AM
People planting mangrove seedlings in the water along a section of the Palisadoes Road.
People planting mangrove seedlings in the water along a section of the Palisadoes Road.

NOTED MARINE biologist and ecologist Professor Mona Webber has added her voice to the call for a relook at protection for mangrove forests, following recent reports of the continued destruction of the productive resource.

“Mangrove loss is always concerning because of the range of services these forests provide – including water purification, erosion protection, and provision of habitat for species and juvenile fish,” noted Webber, director of the Centre for Marine Sciences at The University of the West Indies.

“They are also very efficient at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and so are huge reservoirs of carbon – stored in the living trees as well as the soil and peat. So any loss of mangroves is to be prevented,” she added.

Webber’s comments come in the wake of a red flag flown recently by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) about reports alleging the removal of mangroves within the Palisadoes Port Royal Protected Area by a state agency, in the absence of the required environmental permit.

“JET is extremely concerned about the continuing destruction of Jamaica’s mangrove forests. JET has recently received reports alleging the removal of mangroves within the Palisadoes Port Royal Protected Area … in the absence of the required environmental permit. We have also received reports of further removal of mangroves to facilitate the expansion of the town of Falmouth …” the environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) noted in a September 2 release to the media.

“Mangrove forests are one of the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, and their conservation is a key, natural adaptation strategy and mitigation measure in response to climate change, providing protection against storms. The Jamaican Government has recognised the island’s vulnerability to climate change as a small island developing state and has stressed the importance of adaptation. In fact, Jamaica’s 2020 Nationally Determined Contributions, in support of the Paris Agreement signed by 196 countries in 2015, stresses the importance of preserving and enhancing the forestry sector,” JET added.

Against this background, the NGO called for the “preparation of the Mangrove Management Plan to be sped up by the Forestry Department and for the National Environment and Planning Agency to stop granting permits for the removal of existing mangrove forests and focus on their protection and replanting in areas where they would be most beneficial”.

Webber, for her part, said: “It is true that mangrove restoration and rehabilitation activities cannot immediately return the ecosystem services. However, they do offer mitigation and, when done properly, will address the cause of the forest loss”.

“There are many cases where mangroves were lost due to hurricane damage and changes in land elevation and other activities that affected water flow to the forest, and so loss is not always due to obvious tree removal,” she added.

“Mangrove restoration and rehabilitation, including conservation, is necessary for most of Jamaica’s forests. There are no untouched mangrove areas remaining in Jamaica, and we must protect the remaining forests from removal, as well as from some of the more gradual destructive effects, like solid waste (including plastics) build-up. The comments by JET are welcomed, as any opportunity to support and highlight the importance of mangroves and the threats they face are well received,” Webber said further.

The threat posed by the depletion of Jamaica’s mangrove forests has long been acknowledged, with the Forestry Department’s land use assessment for the period 1998 to 2013 showing that local mangroves and swamps had depleted by some 98 per cent.