Mangroves – Community response to the effects of climate change
What is the problem?
In the face of climate change, tourism/industrial developments, community expansions, and new developing mariculture initiatives, Belize has given up areas of environmental importance that sometimes do not even become what they are planned for or eventually become completely abandoned. As a result, the environmental services that these areas once benefited from are no longer available therefore increasing these communities’ vulnerability to different weather conditions and on a more global scale, the effects of climate change. Deforestation is a worldwide problem and therefore the solution to reducing and/or mitigating this problem is not the responsibility of one country, but of countries globally.
Are mangroves being affected?
Yes, mangroves are being affected by anthropogenic activities. Every year at least 1% of mangrove cover is lost and in some areas up to 8% cover is lost. Even though mangroves are considered to be highly resilient, because of the many natural alterations that their environment goes through on a daily basis, they may not adapt quickly enough to counter the effects of climate change. Due to the ecological, biological, and economic importance of mangroves, not only for the country of Belize but also worldwide, restoration efforts of this ecosystem have started to take place locally, as a response to the effects of climate change.
Mangroves in Belize
Worldwide there are more than 70 species of mangroves and mangrove associates. In Belize there are only three types of mangroves and one main associate; the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), and buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) respectively. Together these mangroves, along with other plants that share the same ecosystem areas, form what is known as “mangrove forest.”
The mangroves of Belize cover most of the coastal zone, creating great mazes that wind around areas of tidal water and penetrate deep into the coastal zone of the country (up to approximately eight miles inland). Mangroves dominate the mouths of our rivers and creeks, traveling upstream as far as tides will take them. They are found along most of Belize’s coastline and at many coastal cayes and lagoons.
Importance of mangroves
Creatures such as mangrove oysters, crabs, snails, sponges, tunicates, worms, barnacles, mussels, corals, and algae are some of the most common life forms found attached to mangrove root systems. Each organism behaves in its own way to enhance the ecosystem’s function by filtering, feeding, and protecting. Juvenile snappers, groupers, and lobsters, which are commercially important species in Belize, begin their life in the mangrove environment and later migrate out to deeper waters. In fact, 80% of fish on Belize’s reefs spend their formative years in the mangroves.
Above the waterline, the mangrove trees also provide protection for many birds, reptiles, invertebrates and mammals. This ecosystem is a rich source of food and a perfect location for reproduction. The wood stork (one of Belize’s largest birds), many species of heron, the egret, ibis, spoonbill, and white-crowned pigeon can be found in the mangrove trees. In the case of reptiles, the anole lizard, boa constrictors, and other snakes, as well as the American saltwater crocodile all make mangrove forests their home. Mammals are less abundant in mangrove ecosystems, but raccoons, coatimundi, and squirrels are sometimes seen. The coastal mangrove also forms habitat for the endangered Antillean manatee. Some environmental services provided by mangroves include filtering out heavy nutrient loads, sediment control, building land, shoreline protection from high wind and surf, and helping to form one of the largest marine nurseries. All of these are of great economic and environmental importance for Belize.
What is the Southern Environmental Association doing?
Through the funding of the European Union (UNDP/EU/GCCA), the Southern Environmental Association (SEA) has embarked on the project “Community response to the effects of climate change” as a part of the Enhancing Belize’s resilience to adapt to the effects of climate change action. This project focuses on building the resilience of communities and ecosystems in the face of climate change impacts through an ecosystem based approach that enhances land use management for greater resilience to soil erosion and coastal degradation. Community members including students, teachers, village leaders, and other volunteers are fully engaged in restoration and management activities that enable communities to be strengthened and resilient over the long term to the negative effects of climate change. Ideally this project aims to:
- Conduct mangrove reforestation throughout coastal communities in southern Belize
- Monitor water quality within the Placencia lagoon and the Southern Belize Reef Complex
- Enhance the resilience to coastal communities and their protective ecosystems through community engagement
- Improve and secure water supply to two coastal communities to strengthen their resiliency to the effects of climate change
Now in 2014 …
- Over 140 students from seven different coastal communities have been trained in mangrove identification, the importance of mangroves, facing climate change, and mangrove restoration
- Over 800 red, black and white mangroves and buttonwoods have been planted in five different coastal communities
- A water monitoring report for June 2013-June 2014 has been completed
- A mangrove restoration guide has been completed and disseminated in SEA’s eight stakeholder communities
- Coral bleaching monitoring continues
- 2 coastal communities will benefit from beach erosion assessments and improved drinking water facilities
What can you do to get involved?
SEA continues to train community members from its stakeholder communities (Hopkins, Sittee River, Seine Bight, Placencia, Independence, Monkey River, Punta Negra and Punta Gorda) in water quality monitoring and mangrove restoration techniques. If you would like to be a part of our Science or Education team, contact SEA at 501-523-3377 or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also help by respecting and/or monitoring our mangrove restoration sites in your community or a community near you. If you would like to report an incident regarding our monitoring sites or other issues related to the work that SEA does, please also feel free to contact us as we continue to work toward a better community, better country and better world.