Editor’s note: At the U.N. climate change negotiations underway in Marrakech, Morocco, determining how to protect and restore coastal ecosystems for storm surge protection and carbon storage is a high priority for vulnerable countries. But as this story explains, when it comes to communities residing near these ecosystems, these benefits are just the beginning.
One hectare of them can store up to seven times as much carbon as a hectare of tropical forest. Standing strong on the muddy shores of the Gulf of Guayaquil, they can reduce the force of waves pounding the shore by 98 percent. Their trees provide habitat for many rare and threatened species, as well as more plentiful, lucrative ones like the red crab, an important source of sustenance and income for coastal communities.
These are Ecuador’s mangrove forests, which cover about 157,000 hectares (388,000 acres) in the floodplain where the South American country’s coast meets the Pacific Ocean. Despite all the benefits mangroves provide to coastal communities, Ecuadorian mangroves have experienced huge losses in recent decades as many acres were converted to shrimp ponds. To reverse this trend, Ecuador started a mangrove concession program that grants communities exclusive rights to use nearby mangrove areas for fishing, tourism or other livelihood needs. The program has enabled thousands of traditional mangrove users to continue their way of life. Continue reading