BirdLife Partners are working with local communities to protect and restore mangrove ecosystems

Mangrove nursery at Telescope, Grenada © Kadir van Lohuizen_NOOR

Mangrove forest conservation is a cost-effective and affordable long-term strategy to defend coastal communities against the impacts of climate change. Around the world BirdLife is working with local communities to protect and restore mangroves for wildlife and people. Three examples from Panama, Samoa and Palau are presented here.

Mangroves are among the most carbon-rich forests in tropical regions, storing 1,023 Mg carbon per hectare, compared to less than 400 Mg carbon per hectare in temperature forests (Donato et al. 2011). Despite their importance for climate change mitigation, deforestation poses a severe risk to the future functionality of mangroves, and the benefits they bring to humans (Duke et al. 2007). 

Despite only covering 0.7% of the area of tropical forests, deforestation of mangroves equates to ~10% of emissions from global deforestation (Donato et al. 2011, van der Werf et al. 2009, Giri et al. 2011). In the past few decades, 35% of the planets mangroves have been deforested, with 38% of the Americas mangroves being lost over this period (Valiela et al. 2001). 

The protection and restoration of mangrove forests provides numerous benefits. Mangroves act as natural sea defences—absorbing wave energy, limiting erosion and reducing the impact of storms and hurricanes. They also provide food, water and fuel resources for local communities (Costanza et al. 1997) and are an important habitat for coastal biodiversity (Nagelkerken et al. 2008).

The Neotropical Mangrove Conservation Alliance is a collaborative project between BirdLife partners that aims to conserve, restore and manage mangrove forests sustainably throughout the American tropics. The project partners will facilitate knowledge sharing and capacity building, whilst also raising awareness of the importance of mangroves and the need for on-the-ground conservation. Practical work will take place in IBAs and actions will be developed to enable sustainable activities such as ecotourism to take place (Mangrove Alliance 2012).

The Upper Bay of Panamá is one of the most important areas for migratory shorebirds in the Americas. Panamá Audubon Society (BirdLife in Panama) has provided wetland management training to Local Conservation Groups in the area. Mangrove restoration, as part of an integrated coastal management plan, has contributed to local poverty alleviation by improving fish, molluscs and other mangrove forest resources. This strengthening of local capacities, together with network and advocacy training (e.g. to influence government into legislative reform that controls exploitation), provides a basic platform from which to start designing self-help sustainable development that will help maintain ecosystem services and reduce vulnerability to climate change.

With 74% of its people and infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas, Samoa is likely to be severely impacted by future sea level rise. In response, O le Si’osi’omaga Society Incorporated (BirdLife in Samoa), is working with the Matafaa indigenous village community to protect their coastal mangroves. This will help protect the islands agricultural land from cyclone and tsunami-related flooding and erosion, predicted to increase in frequency and intensity with climate change. The mangrove conservation project also helps the local people to enhance benefits from existing natural resources such as herbal medicine plants (the primary form of health care), fuel and fibre, fish, and associated biodiversity.

The biodiverse islands and atolls of Palau in the Pacific are also vulnerable to climate change impacts. Over the last three years, Palau Conservation Society (BirdLife in Palau) has co-ordinated an ecosystem approach, addressing coastal erosion on Babeldaob, Palau’s largest island and the location for three Important Bird Areas (Middle Ridge, Western Ridge, and Ngerutechei). By providing information on ecosystem changes, and assisting the formation of community alliances such as the Babeldaob Watershed Alliance, awareness has been raised of the importance of ecosystems and adaptation in land-use planning.

These examples illustrate how BirdLife is helping to mitigate coastal erosion and minimise the impacts of saltwater inundation on water quality, by working with local communities and governments to ensure that adequate forested coastal buffer zones are in place. Concurrently, these activities are also helping to conserve the rich coastal biodiversity of these areas.

This case study is taken from ‘The Messengers: What birds tell us about threats from climate change and solutions for nature and people’. To download the report in full click here

Related Case Studies in other sections

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Costanza, R., d’Arge, R., de Groot, R., Farberk, S., Grasso, M., Hannon, B., Limburg, K., Naeem, S., O’Neill, R. V., Paruelo, J., Raskin, R. G., Sutton, P. and van den Belt, M. (1997) The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387: 253–260.

Donato, D. C., Kauffman, J. B., Murdiyarso, D., Kurnianto, S., Stidham, M. and Kanninen, M. (2011) Mangroves among the most carbon-rich forests in the tropics. Nature Geoscience 4: 293–297.

Duke, N. C., Meyneck, J.-O., Dittmann, S., Ellison, A. M., Anger, K.,  Berger, U., Cannicci, S., Diele, K., Ewel, K. C., Field, C. D., Koedam, N., Lee, S. Y., Marchand, C., Nordhaus, I. and Dahdouh-guebas, F. (2007) A world without mangroves? Science 317: 41.

Giri, C., Ochieng, E., Tieszen, L. L., Zhu, Z., Singh, A., Loveland, T., Masek, J. and Duke, N. (2011) Status and distribution of mangrove forests of the world using earth observation satellite data. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 20: 154–159.

Mangrove Alliance (2012) The Neotropical Mangrove Conservation Alliance. Available at:

Nagelkerken, I., Blaber, S. J. M., Bouillon, S., Green, P., Haywood, M., Kirton, L. G., Meynecke, J.-O., Pawlik, J., Penrose, H. M., Sasekumar, A., Somerfield, P. J. (2008) The habitat function of mangroves for terrestrial and marine fauna: A review. Aquat. Bot. 89: 155–185

Valiela, I., Bowen, J. L. and York, J. K. (2001) Mangrove Forests: One of the World's Threatened Major Tropical Environments. BioScience. 51: 807–815.

van der Werf, G. R., Morton, D. C., DeFries, R. S., Olivier, J. G. J., Kasibhatla, P. S., Jackson, R. B., Collatz, G. J. and Randerson, J. T. (2009) CO2 emissions from forest loss. Nature Geosci. 2, 737–738.

Compiled: 2009    Last updated: 2015    Copyright: 2015   

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2015) BirdLife Partners are working with local communities to protect and restore mangrove ecosystems. Downloaded from on 29/11/2023