To achieve its full potential, India should fill gaps in mangrove research

Getting mangroves right, ecosystems that are on the global climate agenda because of their carbon storage capacity, could lay the groundwork for effective climate protection measures and the protection of biodiversity in coastal areas, said well-known mangrove scientist K Kathiresan.

Kathiresan, who has worked extensively in Tamil Nadu’s Pichavaram mangroves, said restoring mangroves with an emphasis on biodiversity (diverse mangrove plant species and fauna) and in the right place rather than growing mangrove monocultures is for mangrove health vital.

He said engaging local communities in the planning, implementation and monitoring of plantation projects and a deeper understanding of the fauna and microorganisms associated with these amphibious defenders are key to mitigating climate change with an emphasis on mangrove ecosystems.

Mongabay India met Kathiresan after his presentation at the Mangrove Research in Indian Subcontinent conference, organized by the Center for International Forestry Research and Wildlife Institute of India. He spoke about the importance of human participation in protecting the mangroves and illustrated this using the example of the mangrove restoration in Pichavaram.

Joint mangrove management

The approach of joint mangrove management relied on community participation and was based on the principles of joint forest management. The joint mangrove management approach and the mangrove restoration pilot project in Pichavaram have been extended to other east coast mangroves in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha and other areas in Tamil Nadu, totaling 1,400 hectares.

Restoration efforts such as those carried out at Pichavaram are helping to sequester carbon (the process of absorbing, securing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere). Biological carbon sequestration is long-term carbon storage in oceans, soils, vegetation (especially forests) and geological formations.

Kathiresan urged further studies to provide baseline data on mangrove carbon storage, collected in specific geographic areas, and for time to develop a country-level map “that will provide a better picture of the role of mangroves in mitigating climate change” .

Research on mangrove restoration and carbon stocks are topics that deserve more attention in India, shows the results of an analysis of mangrove research from five decades (1971-2021) discussed during the conference. While studies on vegetation ecology dominate the subject areas of mangrove research in India, studies on mangrove fauna and microbial communities follow at a distance, areas in which gaps in knowledge have to be closed.

Division of studies according to subject areas. Photo credit: Nehru Prabakaran

Nehru Prabakaran of the Wildlife Institute of India, who carried out the analysis, said “the various groups of fauna in mangroves are comparatively the least studied,” and despite the greater number of studies on vegetation ecology, a meta-analysis of the studies available is almost unavailable. The results also showed a lack of long-term studies.

The analysis included 1,165 publications, which included research articles, book chapters, dissertations, review articles, and other categories. Three mangrove ecosystems with the highest number of releases are the Sundarbans mangroves in India, part of the largest contiguous mangrove system in the world, the Odisha mangroves and the Tamil Nadu mangroves.

Documentation on biodiversity

Prabakaran’s analysis also showed an increase in the number of publications on mangroves whose titles were titled “tsunami” or “cyclone” after the 2004 Asian tsunami.

“India has done an excellent job documenting biodiversity, but human involvement is vital in restoring (degraded) mangroves,” said Kathiresan. “They should be consistently involved from planning (how to protect, how to carry out hydrological management) to execution and monitoring.” In Pichavaram between 1986 and 2002, 90% of the degraded mangrove forests were rehabilitated with the participation of the population, he emphasized .

Kathiresan added that the dialogue and conservation efforts in mangroves in coastal protection (disaster risk reduction) and fisheries have gained momentum, but greater emphasis needs to be placed on the mangrove-blue carbon finance dimension.

Most of the studies concerned the Sundarbans. Card credit: Nehru Prabakaran

The protection or restoration of blue carbon – organic carbon that is stored and stored over long periods of time by overgrown coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests, sea grasses and salt marshes – is becoming increasingly important as an important natural climate solution.

Experts have previously communicated with Mongabay India that there is a research / data gap in the development of blue carbon inventories for Indian mangroves. These constraints need to be addressed if the role of blue carbon in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement needs to be solidly demonstrated, according to a September 2020 Policy Brief from the Energy and Resources Institute.

India’s mangrove cover

As one of its main goals, India committed in its nationally defined contribution in 2015 under the Paris Agreement to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030 through additional forest and tree cover.

Kathiresan points out that conserving biodiversity with native species will enrich the carbon sequestration potential of Indian mangroves. “In places where a mangrove species is grown, carbon sequestration is low, but many species have increased carbon sequestration potential,” he said. “Unfortunately, in many plantations, the focus is only on a few species that grow faster, such as Avicennia and Rhizophora. “

India’s mangrove area extends over 4,975 km², including the coasts, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep Islands and the sprinkling of urban mangroves according to the India State of Forest Report 2019. The report documented a 54 km² increase in mangrove cover compared to the previous assessment, but marked a decrease in mangrove cover in Tamil Nadu (4 km²), West Bengal (2 km²) and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (1 km²).

A recent paper mapping the global potential and limits of Mangrove Blue Carbon to mitigate climate change states that India has 189 square kilometers of “profitable mangroves” that qualify for blue carbon funding and are financially sustainable for over 30 years are. Kathiresan considers the 189 square kilometers (corresponds to 4% of the total mangrove area of ​​India) to be an underestimate.

“India has 30% of the dense mangrove forest and will have greater potential for sequestration – we need to identify the financially viable mangrove carbon sites,” he said. Linked to this goal is the requirement to improve the measurement of underground carbon using a standardized method. Regarding the volume of carbon trade in mangrove ecosystems, Kathiresan adds that the seafood export segment can build on it. “We have to enrich the entire biodiversity of the coastal seas. They are all associated with salt marshes and mangroves, ”he added.

This article first appeared on Mongabay.

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