Earthwatch Institute (Europe) is to launch a new project, Mangroves of Sri Lanka made possible thanks to a partnership with global insurance provider Zurich Financial Services, which has made a supporting financial grant. Over the next four years, Earthwatch will work with local communities to develop optimum ways of replanting and restoring the mangrove stands that will protect the coastline of Sri Lanka from future storm surges and tsunamis.
"Mangrove ecosystems are increasingly threatened by human activities at a rate of 2% per year globally", says Dr. Roger Mitchell, Director of Research and Education at Earthwatch. "The damage and destruction of these coastal forests is a cause for concern as they provide a number of 'ecosystem services', such as protection from erosion, storm protection and water purification. The coastal protection role has received high prominence of late and there is evidence that mangroves can help to protect the settlements of coastal communities".
The aim of the project is to restore community managed mangrove forests at selected sites around the coast of Sri Lanka. This will help people to create sustainable livelihoods and encourage protection of the coastline. This year, the Earthwatch research team will establish mangrove nurseries and initial experimental planting plots. From 2007, 18 fellowships will be available for people from the local communities and organisations to join the project for two week periods. Efforts will also be made to make it possible for teams of Zurich employees and volunteers from the general public to join the Sri Lankan fellows in the field to help with the planting and monitoring of newly established mangroves. Local communities will be heavily involved, as employees and directors of the project, in the establishment, monitoring and use of mangrove stands that are planted.
Dave Hillyard, Director of Programme Development says, "We are pleased to be working with Zurich Financial Services and to have initiated a new project which is involving and employing local people, training local students and, in time, engaging international volunteers in mangrove ecology and conservation."
This new Earthwatch project will run as a 'sister project' to a current Earthwatch project in Kenya which is using similar methods. The shared expertise and knowledge between the two project teams could benefit mangrove conservationists world-wide.