Sprouting Mangroves Restore Hopes in Coastal Myanmar

Young planters stand guard by mangrove forest in Shwe Thaung Yan
sub township in Ayyerwady region of Myanmar. Credit: Stella
Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
SHWE THAUNG YAN, Myanmar, Jan 4 2019 (IPS)

Htay Aung is having a moment. The 63-year-old retired professor
of Marine Science sits at the foot of a Buddha statue atop a hill
on Shwe Thaung Yan sub township, in Myanmar’s Ayyerwady
region, almost in meditation. Below him, a vast thicket of
mangrove glistens in the gold of a setting sun. For Aung, this
stretch of mangroves—known as the Thor Heyerdahl Climate
Park—is a symbol of joy, hope and all things good.

“We gave three years of hard work in planting these trees. Now
they are growing tall. Soon, they will be the biggest assets of our
people,” he says, pointing at the forest and the tiny dot of
houses that appear in the horizon.

The restored mangrove forest in Shwe Thaung Yan sub township in
Ayyerwady region of Myanmar. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Mangroves in Myanmar
This mangrove forest is spread across an area of 2,557 square
kilometres (km)—almost the size of Luxembourg.

However, in most places, the density is wafer thin thanks to
rampant clearing of the mangroves for space to breed shrimps and
for firewood etc. According to a recent study
by Pierre Taillerdat, Massimo Lupascu and Daniel Friess, Myanmar
loses about 21 square km of its mangrove forest each year.

Shwe Thaung Yan, about 185 km north west of Yangon, once had a
severely degraded forest where 75 percent of its mangroves had been
destroyed.

Then the story changed.

In 2015, just before the rains came, a motley crowd of a few
hundred men, women and youths from the fishing villages, wearing
shinny plastic gumboots and carrying sling sacks filled with
mangrove saplings, gathered along the muddy swamp in Myagi—one of
the three villages under Shwe Thaung Yan.

For several hours a day, they planted the saplings in the muddy
soil made fertile and nutrient rich by regular tides.
By October of that year, they had planted over 700,000 trees on
three square km of land.

Since then, the plantation drive has taken place each year. By
the end of October 2018, the community planted six million trees in
three villages of under Shew Thaung Yan, covering 9 square km of
land—an area over four times bigger than the city of Monaco.

Leading the planters from the front, besides Aung were Uboni and
Aung Aung Myint, experts in mangrove research and costal ecosystems
restoration. The three are currently associated with Worldview International Foundation
(WIF)
—a Norwegian charity co-founded by Arne Fjortoft, a
former journalist turned politician and a renowned
environmentalist.

“We used the satellite images, studied the images meticulously
and created a map that shows the exact patches in the mangrove
forest that had gone bare. We shared this information with the
villagers. We also marked the areas and divided the planters in
several groups and assigned each group a certain area,” Uboni
tells IPS.

Before the plantation started, WIF entered into an active
partnership with Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation
and two of the country’s leading educational institutions, Myeik
and Pathein universities. The land area for planting
mangroves—over 7 square km in all—was provided by Pathein
University, which is also involved in studying marine science along
the coast of Shwe Thaung Yan.

Worldview International Foundation (WIF) signboard by a mangrove
forest in Shwe Thaung Yan sub township in Ayyerwady region of
Myanmar. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Mitigating Climate Change
Mangroves make up only 0.7 percent of the world’s forests, but
they have the potential to store about 2.5 times as much CO2 as
humans produce globally each year. A
2017 study
estimated that the total amount of carbon held in
the world’s mangroves was around 4.2 billion tonnes. If this
whole amount were released as CO2, it would be equivalent to the
annual emissions of China and the United States put together.

Another study said that Myanmar’s mangroves — which is 3
percent of global mangrove forests, shows “huge (blue carbon)
potential if conservation can prevent further emissions from their
loss and encourage future carbon sequestration through
restoration.” So, blue carbon mitigation at the national scale
“is well aligned with the Paris Agreement and associated
Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for some nations,” the
study says.

Cameron Keith Richards, professor at Southern Cross University,
Australia, visited Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park in 2016 to evaluate
the mangrove restoration and its blue carbon stock. In his validation
report
, which helped the project qualify for selling its carbon
stocks, Richards summarised the project saying that it was
“reasonably assumed to represent an overall 4.3 million tons of
C02 within a 20-year lifecycle of the current trees and additional
trees to be planted in the project.”

The mangrove project has opened ways for alternative livelihoods
and skill-building opportunities for the community. Credit: Stella
Paul/IPS

Community Development
Shew Thaung Yan is primarily a fishing sub township where catching
and selling of fish remain the source of sustenance for its nearly
11,000-strong community.

However, the mangrove project has opened ways for alternative
livelihoods and skill-building opportunities for the community:
during the monsoon when there is little or no fishing in the sea,
the community members earn wages by planting mangrove saplings in
the forests around them.

Women of the village have also started a clam farming
collective–a first for the community. The collective which
presently has 55 members, is running from a site that was earlier
used as a nursery for growing mangrove saplings. The women visit
the mangrove forest where they collect clams and bring it back to
the farm where each of them have a 6 to 10 ft enclosure that are
regularly flooded by the tidal waves. The clams have been
“sowed’ into the slushy farm soil, where they will thrive and
grow fat, feeding on the nutrients brought by the tides.

This is a zero-investment livelihood initiative that promises
local women a good earning opportunity, explains Shwe Sandar Oo,
the coordinator of the farming project. “The land is free, the
clams are free and we have already connected them to buyers,” she
tells IPS. The buyers, she says, are hoteliers in Chaung Tha, a
beach town popular among domestic and foreign tourists. Big, fleshy
clams are high in demand among the tourists and usually fetch half
a dollar each.

Clam farmer Thein Thein Sein is full of happiness as she looks
upon her zero-investment clam farm in Myagi village of Shwe Thaung
Yan sub township in Ayyerwady region of Myanmar. Credit: Stella
Paul/IPS

Thein Thein Nwe, one of the clam farmers says that it’s the
zero-investment that drew her to the collective. Earlier this year,
Nwe’s eldest daughter dropped out of school at grade 10, after
she failed to pass her grade 10 tests. With the income she earns
from her clam farm, the 42-year-old fisherwoman now hopes to send
her daughter to a private coach, so she could retake the tests.

Many in the village of Maygi have received clean cookstoves and
solar lamps provided by WIF. The village has a media centre where
school-going children of the village are learning various skills
including basic computer operations, photography and embroidery.
Run by WIF, the centre offers scholarship girl students who are
promising but too poor to afford tuition fees.

Way to the Future
As 2019 begins, the planters in Shwe Thaung Yan are gearing up to
plant two billion trees–their biggest plantation drive to date.
Once finished, restoration drive of Shwe Thaung Yan would be
complete and the restored forest would store 300 million tonnes of
CO2, Uboni says. “After this, we are going to Yangon Division and
also the delta division. So, in the new year, we will go to Bago
and Mon state to plant mangrove,” he announces.

Aung, on the other hand, is more focused on the underwater
marine life, especially conserving the seagrass and the coral bed
both of which are available in the sea around Shwe Thaung Yan.

“The seagrass can stock much more blue carbon than the land
trees or mangrove. It is also what feeds Dugong or sea cow—a
critically endangered sea mammal. So, with the help of WIF and
Pathein University, we now aim is to build a marine sanctuary
around Shwe Thaung Yan,” he says.

The idea has received the approval of Daw Si Si Hla Bu, the
rector of Pathein University. “I want to see our university
making significant contribution to coastal ecosystem
restoration,” Hla Bu tells IPS.

Arne Fjortoft tells IPS that the funding for the proposed marine
sanctuary could be raised from selling off the carbon stock of
mangrove forests. For Fjortoft, however, the mangrove restoration,
vocational trainings, clam farming and marine life conservation are
all part of a big, single picture: “The final goal here is to
help bring sustainable development for 12 million people of the
country’s coastal communities. And that’s the future we are
hoping to see.”

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Sprouting Mangroves Restore Hopes in Coastal Myanmar
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Sprouting Mangroves Restore Hopes in Coastal Myanmar