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Wonder Trees: The Quest to Reforest a Million Mangroves

CRISIS - Biosystem Viability by Christiaan Vrolijk Americas Jul 26th 20224 mins
Wonder Trees: The Quest to Reforest a Million Mangroves

Celebrated every year on July 26, the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem is a day to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems as “a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem”. A unique initiative brings private and nonprofit partners together to restore one of Mother Nature’s most effective carbon sinks, mangroves.

On the boundary of land and sea is where you will find the mangrove tree. Known for a unique root system often seen above water, the power of a mangrove actually lies within those roots. Mangroves are one of the most effective carbon storage solutions that exist in nature. The salty trees store four times more carbon than a rainforest, but sadly, more than 35% of the world’s mangroves have been deforested. From 2000 to 2012, mangrove deforestation was estimated to have released more than 300 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – wasting their potential as a powerful carbon store.

UNESCO declared July 27 the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem – a moment to uplift and recognise the power and potential of one of the world’s most effective carbon sinks. Now, at a time when the world desperately needs to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, it begs the question: Why are we not doing more to protect and restore these trees?

One unique private sector initiative is working to change the tide.


Mangroves in Mexico, 2020. Photo: courtesy of BlueMX

The “Wonder Tree”

Mangroves are biologically rich ecosystems. They are rare, representing less than 1% of tropical forests, but they are also powerful. In some locations, one hectare of mangroves can store more than 3,700 tonnes of carbon, an amount equivalent to taking more than 2,650 cars off the road for a year. 

Yet, mangroves are more than just carbon sinks. They ensure food security and protect communities against erosion, sea level rise, storm surges, and other coastal threats. A 500-metre mangrove area can reduce wave height by 50% or even 99%, effectively protecting communities. Their nickname, the “wonder tree”, is well earned, but despite all they offer, they continue to disappear.

The Million Mangroves Project

A network of companies and nonprofits are on a quest to reforest one million mangroves worldwide  – a goal they have almost achieved. The Million Mangroves project was launched in 2018 by Climate Impact Partners (formerly Natural Capital Partners) – one of the world’s leading experts on carbon finance. The goal is to harness the power of business to direct money to reforest mangroves in collaboration with nonprofit partners and local groups like BlueMX and others, across Kenya, Mexico, Indonesia, and other regions where original mangrove forests have been depleted.

As companies face increased pressure to make progress against climate goals and commitments, the opportunity to fund carbon reduction and removal globally is an attractive prospect. Companies including Sky, Workday, VMware, and Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, have all signed on to support the Million Mangrove programme and to date, there are commitments to plant more than 750,000 trees.


Mangroves Restoration in Mexico, 2020. Photo: courtesy of BlueMX

Unexpected Benefits

In Mtwapa Creek near Mombasa, Kenya, over 80% of mangrove forests have been destroyed to provide fuel and income for local communities. Deforestation has been so severe that there is space for hundreds of thousands of mangrove trees. 

When Climate Impact Partners started working with its project partner, CO2balance, and on-the-ground teams to restore the mangroves, they wanted to ensure that the project also addressed the local community’s unique needs. In that region of Kenya, medicinal honey is in high demand and particularly valuable in the markets. Taking advantage of the new ecosystems hosted bymangroves, the project partners installed beehives in the trees to provide a new income source. It is a shining example of how nature-based climate solutions need to go hand-in-hand with ecosystem restoration and sustainable development for local communities, especially those most impacted by climate change.

The Kenya project has been a successful part of the Million Mangroves initiative and has entered its third planting season.

In southern Mexico nearly half of the mangrove forests have been destroyed, an area equivalent to the size of 2,000 football pitches. It is caused by population growth and severe weather impacting the salinity and oxygen levels in the water. 

Through Million Mangroves, BlueMX is working with local teams to restore some of the tidal areas, as there is a healthy water flow to enable the reforested mangroves to grow. Now, about 650,000 trees need to be planted which will be done by a local cooperative – Comunidad de Restauradores del Manglar en Isla Aguada (Community of Mangrove Restorers in Isla Aguada). They are working with a local mangrove expert to ensure the quality of the seedlings, maintain and monitor the area, protect it from further degradation and restore a thriving mangrove forest.

The project is considering how carbon standards, such as Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard, can be applied to validate and verify the greenhouse gas reductions. But in the meantime, the businesses supporting Million Mangroves are ensuring trees are planted right now to start the important job of removing carbon sooner rather than later, paying dividends, not only for the environment but for people, too.


Mangroves Restoration in Mexico, 2020. Photo: courtesy of BlueMX

Securing a Future for Mangroves

The impact of Million Mangroves is a result of growing corporate interest in strengthening and advancing nature-based solutions. It is only one of many blue carbon solutions such as the conservation of sea grasses and kelp seaweeds that Climate Impact Partners is working on.

Global calls to protect our fragile ecosystems will continue as we continue to search for ways to reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. The Million Mangroves project has been a bright light in that effort, but more must be done to turn the tide and protect the world’s wonder trees.

This article has been written by Christiaan Vrolijk, Sourcing Lead, Climate Impact Partners

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