The General Conference of UNESCO proclaimed an International Day specifically for Mangrove Ecosystems in 2015. UNESCO has supported the conservation, restoration and scientific research of mangrove ecosystems through the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, major international conferences, scientific interventions and publications, including the World Atlas of Mangroves, for many decades.
We know very well that these ecosystems are of the utmost importance for people, because of their high marine productivity and immense carbon sequestration capacity, as well as their important ecosystem functions and economic services.
Mangroves are immensely important for our own wellbeing, yet we are eradicating them fast. This compromises our goals to keep ecosystems intact, causes serious ecological and socio-economic impacts, and contradicts our respect for nature itself. Government authorities, academic institutions, nature conservation bodies, schools and communities, and specialized UN agencies have to come together with the private sector, and work together to keep what we have and to repair what we have lost. ‘Open Science’ is a global movement aiming to make science more accessible, democratic, transparent and beneficial for all. Driven by unprecedented advances in our digital world, the transition to ‘Open Science’ allows scientific information, data and outputs to be more widely accessible and more readily shared with the active engagement of all relevant stakeholders. ‘Open Science’ should allow to accelerate necessary action, including for biodiversity conservation. In the mangrove Forum we should try and embark on a process of ‘Open Science’, involve people more, possibly via the engagement of universities and schools.
Natural mangrove forests need to be conserved and restored, based on sound science and supported by united responsibility, environmental education and community involvement. From 2021, we will develop dynamic concerted actions to generate holistic cooperation for large-scale positive change. Let us jointly contribute to this goal and conserve and restore mangroves, supported by a process of socio-ecological monitoring. We have to do much more to address the ongoing environmental crises that have worsened over the years and decades. It would also be a major mistake to leave youth behind, as has been done before. These environmental crises will not go away by themselves – action is needed and we need to work together. The general public and especially young people have to be involved, in a process of ‘Open Science’, rather than restricting meaningful interventions to academia and environmental agencies.
Mangroves are incredibly productive plants, able to provide numerous goods and ecosystem services that are beneficial to both people and
marine environments. These include fast growing timber and plant products, maintaining water quality, coastal protection, environmental
tourism, and sustenance for fisheries in coastal communities. Additionally, mangrove ecosystems accommodate an exceedingly high level of biodiversity and play a major role as a carbon sink. The ability to grow in hypersaline environments also distinguishes mangroves as an extremely valuable source of freshwater independent biofuel.
UNESCO has supported the conservation, development, and scientific research of mangroves for many years, particularly through the establishment and science-based management of coastal UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. UNESCO Bangkok, in its strategic plan for 2020 and beyond, considers mangrove management in the Mekong Sub-Region as a priority. UNESCO is now in the process of setting up a ‘Mekong Mangrove Forum’, with mangrove and nature conservation specialists from Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, supported international mangrove stakeholders.
The forum will focus on bringing stakeholders together, and to have practical interventions to redress the adverse anthropogenic impact on mangrove ecosystems. Initially, strengthening the World Network of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves will be at the centre of the intervention, including offsetting mangrove habitat loss based on illegal logging for charcoal production. Establishing new UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and testing various conservation and restoration options will be potential activities, as well other ideas as suggested and practiced by UNESCO’s partners.