From all the classification of tree species that exists, the saline swamp mangroves play an extremely significant role in balancing the world’s major ecosystems. Covering an area of 15,000,000 ha, mangroves also have the potential to provide a promising carbon sink in at least 124 countries. Ecosystem services of these halophyte trees go as far as being storm barriers, prevent soil erosion and protect against floods. For some animals, (migratory birds and breeding fish) mangroves are source of shelter and they also act as nurseries for flora and fauna. Timber harvesting, fodder, medicines, honey supply, tanning, poles and charcoal production are important commercial uses of mangroves. Despite the ecological significance of mangrove forests, they have fallen victims to over exploitation. Extracting timber and non-timber products from forests is inevitable, however sustainability should be the centre of using forests resources.
Indeed, mankind is inflicted with the flawed thinking of having “never ending resources”. On the other hand humans are responsible of wreaking havoc on nature. Even if the sense of responsibility for nature is based on emotions in the form of anthropogenic environmental disasters, one should still be thankful that it exists at all. ‘’Sustainable development’’ is one such product of our toxic relation with mother nature. So complicated and yet so simple, sustainable development or management allows for the utilization of any environmental resource whereby the present need of the people is met without compromising the need of the future generation. The concept emerged with the Brundtland commission report named ‘’Our common future’’. Proper forest management however was inked in the 1992 UNCED (United Nation Convention on Environment Development) to give it the outreach it deserved. One can think of sustainable use of mangroves as hitting two birds with one stone. Seemingly easy yet difficult, one may ask if it is possible and the answer is yes. Matang mangrove forest in Malaysia is one shining example of sustainable forest management which after 100 years of management is still intact.
Matang mangrove forest is considered as one of the best sustainable managed forest in the world. The timber harvested from Matang is mainly used for charcoal production. Harvesting cycle is comprised of 30-year rotation period. Artificial and natural regeneration is practiced with Rhizophora apiculata as the dominant species due to its fast growing and insect resistant nature. To promote productivity, single specie concept is encouraged in managed blocks or compartments with two silviculture thinning practices at the intervals of 15 and 20 years. Clear felling is carried out in 30-year-old compartments. After clear felling, compartments are left as fallow for two years to restore its fertility with nutrients. As a result of this 100-year sustainable management practice by Perak forest department Malaysia, the yield has been increasing by time as mentioned in its ten-year working plan.
Are there any valuable lessons to be learned from Matang? A very old saying goes by ‘’Where there is a will there is a way’’. What is there that the mind of the keen dweller of the planet cannot answer or fathom? With improved science and technology and better evolved practices, the governments across the global-initiated forest management plans have devised policies for the protection of Mangroves. However, their efforts, or the lack of it, have failed in preventing the degradation of many mangrove communities. Mangroves have been declining at the rate of 1–2% per year and 35% in the last 20 years. A main loophole being the policies and management practices not being implemented with the same spirit they were formulated. For instance, the 1978 policy of Malaysia that was last revised in 1992 has since not been updated at par with the modern upheavals in every sector.
The big drivers, as suggested by studies and reports, for mismanagement of the forest include limited logistic capacity, lack of sufficient financial resources, inappropriate policies and legislation, lack of political interest and dearth of data on the economic value of mangroves. Does this mean we have a problem at hand with no solution? This question does catches our grey area of curiosity. Before we think of stop cutting trees, we need to ‘’know’’ what brings us more benefit; proud standing tall living trees or chopped logs. Humans are selfish by nature and would never want to lose something that they can take advantage of. So, the first step is awareness in addition to appropriate regulations and policies, economic system, up to date management, monitoring and implementation system and stakeholder involvement. The stakeholder maybe local residents of an area or international organizations who claim to be the harbingers of forest safety. In a bird’s eye view, we may say that it is not the planet we are endangering since the planet has been there since eternity and has borne the burden of many other species as well. It is ultimately us that will be affected by the zombie apocalypse deforestation spree we have undertaken by neglecting sustainable management. It is a must that sustainable management of mangroves is ensured globally both by the national government and international organization for the betterment of present and future generations.
Khan Waseem Razzaq
Institut Ekosains Borneo, Universiti Putra Malaysia