Earthwatch scientists in Kenya are developing the first community mangrove conservation project to be funded by the voluntary carbon market.
The project, which is gaining accreditation through Plan Vivo, will have a positive impact on mangrove forests in Gazi Bay, Kenya, benefit the local community, and has the potential to influence mangrove management policy throughout Kenya.
The project is being developed by Earthwatch scientist Professor Mark Huxham and colleagues. Professor Huxham explains: "Mangroves are amongst the most efficient natural carbon sinks and it is essential that the world finds ways to protect them. Payments for carbon credits provides an exciting new possibility for their conservation. Our project (translated as Mikoko Pamoja, or mangroves together) aims to demonstrate how this can work for the benefit of local people and for the ecosystem as a whole."
As part of the project, hundreds of new mangrove trees were planted on the beach in 2010, near Gazi village and at Kinondo, about 6kms further north. These sites have been bare of mangroves for years after the trees were cut down for their wood, and were not regenerating naturally. This was causing massive erosion, creating problems for palm tree plantations in the area as the soil at the plantation edge became less and less stable, causing valuable trees to fall down. Already the new mangrove seedlings have taken well and will start to re-stabilise the soil and encourage natural mangrove growth within a year or two.
As well as restoring degraded areas of mangroves, the project aims to raise income from forest resources for the benefit of the community. The money raised will be spent on local community development projects (such as new school buildings, installation of electricity in the school, scholarships for poor children to attend high school, repair of wind pumps etc.) and provide employment for local people. In addition, the forest enhancement activities will help to reduce coastal erosion and enhance the ecological value of the forest.
This would be the first mangrove carbon accreditation programme supported by Plan Vivo, and one of the first worldwide, as the United Nations REDD+ programme starts to recognise the importance of mangroves as a carbon sink. REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation - is working to create financial value for carbon stored in forests, incentivising developing countries to reduce deforestation and take low-carbon paths to sustainable development. REDD+ extended the remit even further, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
Professor Huxham adds: "Our project partners at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute are world experts in mangrove restoration. They have worked with the people of Gazi for 16 years. We are applying this scientific expertise and the local goodwill to find practical solutions to the problems of forest degradation and loss. We hope our project will influence mangrove conservation and management throughout Kenya and beyond."
The project is raising income to benefit the community, as well as restoring degraded areas of mangroves.
Supporting the initiative are Earthwatch, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute and Edinburgh Napier University. Aviva, which has supported Earthwatch since 1997, has helped to get this project off the ground by supplying funding for the costs of initial fencing and planting, the costs of accreditation and a contribution towards the costs of a coordinator post.
Funding from the John Ellerman Foundation is also supporting the project's aim to put a cost on the carbon storage value of managed mangrove plantations through a community-run, demonstration mangrove plantation. To complete the research needed to achieve this goal, Professor Huxham and Dr James Kairo require the involvement of volunteers in data collection over the life of the project, especially individuals from the local community who are stakeholders of future community-run mangrove plantations. These individuals need to understand the opportunity before them so they are compelled to act if that opportunity materialises. John Ellerman Foundation money will be funding three teams of local and regional stakeholders over three years.
Earthwatch project, Tidal Forests of Kenya, which has been running since 2004 is examining the ecosystem dynamics of replanted mangrove forests under the direction of Professor Mark Huxham, and colleagues. Mangrove forests provide crucial habitat for commercially important fish species and other marine and terrestrial wildlife, including many threatened bird species; protect coral reefs from sedimentation, and, as demonstrated by the tsunami of 2004, play a critical role in protecting tropical coastlines. The Earthwatch project has also been producing data on the role of mangrove forests as carbon sinks, which has provided information to enable this carbon accreditation programme to go ahead.