27 Sep 2017 Story Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Mangrove conservation, Kenyan style

A project on mangrove conservation and restoration in Gazi Bay on the Kenyan coast is turning heads: It’s the world’s first conservation project to link mangrove forests to the global carbon market.

The project raises money by selling carbon credits to people and organizations eager to reduce their carbon footprint, through the Scottish charity ACES. This supports the planting and conservation of mangrove trees. The payments for “mangrove carbon” are also used to benefit the local community.

“We have provided fresh water to the community either by installing water points or by bringing piped water to people’s houses,” says Ann Wanjiru, a local officer involved with the project. “We have bought about 700 textbooks for local schools, and we have improved the infrastructure in the schools by renovating classrooms that were previously leaking.”

International carbon markets can play a key role in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions in a cost effective manner, and the number of emissions trading systems around the world is increasing. This project, however, relies on voluntary contributions.

The project is a “Blue Forests” initiative called Mikoko Pamoja (“mangroves together” in Swahili) in Gazi Bay. It’s a community-based mangrove carbon offset project. In an ongoing process around 4,000 mangrove seedlings get planted every year, which results in carbon savings to generate direct income for the community. This enhances understanding of the value of “blue carbon” and helps research and further reforestation.

© Blue Forests Project / GRID-Arendal

It has involved Edinburgh Napier University staff in the United Kingdom and students working with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) to explore the ecological value of mangroves and methods of helping the ecosystem recover.

“We are hoping the scientific community, the policymakers, the financial institutions come together and develop bigger Mikoko Pamojas, implement bigger carbon offsets such that we have [a] triple win of biodiversity, of community and the climate change,” says James Kairo, assistant director of KMFRI.

And the project has just won the Equator Prize.

“This year… Mikoko Pamoja was nominated [for the prize] and was among 15 initiatives chosen as winners among 806 contestants from about 120 countries... It's such an honor and a big success,” says Wanjiru.

This gives kudos and recognition to those involved in it, as well as much-needed publicity. Because the project has been so successful in Gazi, neighbouring communities are also interested in replicating the activities. UN Environment is providing support to make sure this can happen. The model is being replicated in nearby Vanga Bay (see this five-minute video).

“Mikoko Pamoja is a global first and a model to follow and replicate,” says Gabriel Grimsditch, a UN environment Blue Forests expert. Other Blue Forests projects – from Abu Dhabi to Ecuador, Indonesia, Madagascar and Mozambique – are helping to raise the profile of mangrove carbon finance and conservation.

“UN Environment is working closely with Mikoko Pamoja to make possible their dream of expanding and creating even more environmental and social benefits for coastal peoples in Kenya,” says Grimsditch.

© Blue Forests Project / GRID-Arendal

Mangrove forests protect coastal communities from storms and tsunamis and are efficient natural carbon sinks, locking and storing carbon dioxide at up to five times the rate of tropical rainforests. They also form an important habitat for fish and wildlife.

“Despite their widely recognized socioeconomic and ecological value, mangroves are among the world’s most threatened vegetation types. More than a fifth of the world’s mangroves have been lost over the past 30 years alone, and many surviving forests are degraded. Safeguarding them will require urgent interventions aimed at ensuring that their vital ecosystem services and non-market benefits are adequately incorporated in policy and development choices.” (Governance of Africa's Resources Programme)

It is important for governments to recognize the value of intact mangrove forests, and to develop plans and policies to ensure they are not destroyed or harvested unsustainably. Sustainable management of mangroves can be incorporated into REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) action plans and strategies, or into Nationally Determined Contributions to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to help countries meet their emissions reductions targets.

© Blue Forests Project / GRID-Arendal

Further resources:

James Kairo video on Kenya’s Mikoko Pamoja project

Drone footage of the Mikoko Pamoja area

Mangroves in the spotlight (find out more about how and why mangroves are valuable)

Governing Africa’s Mangroves: A Sustainable Future (2013)

For further information: Steven Lutz Steven.Lutz[at]grida.no or Gabriel Grimsditch: gabriel.grimsditch[at]unep.org

Media enquiries: unepnewsdesk[at]unep.org