SINANCHÃ‰, Mexico, Aug. 2 (IPS) – Two extremes of coastal development coexist in the small community of San Crisanto, in the Sinanché Municipality of Mexico’s southeastern state of Yucatán.
On one side is the mangrove forest that the community has preserved since 1995. It protects the settlement from coastal erosion, supports local fisheries and provides employment in ecotourism. And from 2022, it will generate revenue from carbon credits.
On the other hand, two large housing projects are taking shape. Such construction in the coastal zone represents one of the greatest threats to mangrove ecosystems in Mexico and worldwide. But in San Crisanto, the forest is safe for now.
“Fortunately, the mangroves are doing well,” said IPS José Loria, president of the community-based San Crisanto Foundation, which oversees efforts to protect and restore them. “We are working. This gives a better view of their environmental services.”
But elsewhere in Mexico, threats to mangroves are increasing. Meanwhile, there is uncertainty over government-funded efforts to restore coastal forests, and it’s unclear whether the mangroves can handle rising sea levels that are causing global warming.
Loss and Recovery
Only three countries – Indonesia, Australia and Brazil – have a larger area of mangroves than Mexico, which had 905 086 hectares of these forests in 2020.
These fragile ecosystems play a dual role in the fight against the climate crisis. On the one hand, they absorb and store huge amounts of carbon. On the other hand, they protect coastlines from storms and rising seas.
But they are threatened by the construction of aquaculture farms, infrastructure and tourist development. Regulations designed to protect mangroves and wetlands have not stopped their devastation.
According to the Mexican Mangrove Monitoring System, mangrove deforestation affects three states in particular. In the northern area of Sinaloa it was 5 258 hectares between 2015 and 2020, in Baja California Sur 1 068 and in the northern state of Nayarit 247 hectares.
In addition to deforestation, large mangrove areas are affected by human activities. While the total area of degraded mangroves decreased from 18,332 hectares in 2015 to 9,680 hectares in 2020, it increased in the states of Baja California Sur and Chiapas, in the south.
Replanting lost mangrove forests is one of the goals of the 2021-2030 UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, which started in 2019, but so far no mangrove restoration projects in Mexico have been registered in the UN database.
But, in fact, many mangrove restoration projects are taking place. For example, between 2006 and 2020, Mexico’s National Forestry Commission (Conafor) approved 74 mangrove plantation projects to offset deforestation elsewhere. These projects took place in 13 states, covered 11,479 acres and cost $200 million, according to data from Conafor. The state of Nayarit has hosted 21 initiatives and the southeastern state of Veracruz has hosted 18.
In addition to these deforestation compensation projects, Conafor funded 11 mangrove restoration initiatives in 2021. Together they planted 1.34 million mangrove seeds on 1,048 hectares and cost 2.52 million dollars.
Claudia Teutli, a mangrove researcher at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies at the state-run National Polytechnic Institute, criticizes some aspects of mangrove policies.
“We don’t know the success of the projects because of the way the restoration was done,” she said IPS. “It’s mostly done for compensation requirements. There was no goal to restore the ecosystem.”
Teutli says the government’s monitoring system is outdated and recovery requires better strategies and knowledge of recovery sites.
“There is a confusion between restoration and reforestation,” she says. “We don’t know what was done or how. Success is more than the number of trees planted.”
Joanna Acosta, a professor of conservation biology at the state-run Autonomous University of Carmen in the southeastern state of Campeche, agrees.
“We don’t know where the recovery worked or where it failed,” she says. “Governmental cartography does not make clear whether the mangroves have recovered or not. We need to put in place transparency strategies, as there should be no intervention in areas that are already in recovery.”
The scale of the challenge is enormous – Acosta estimates that Mexico has at least 235,000 hectares of mangroves that are not covered by conservation or management programs. She says that recognizing the value of mangroves should work in favor of government policy design.
“Mangroves are the most resilient to the climate crisis, so they need to be protected,” she says. “It’s important to protect them because of their ability to capture and store carbon, and because their decomposition releases carbon dioxide.”
Resist rising seas?
The community in San Crisanto is responding to this. It has started selling carbon offsets based on the carbon emissions of its 850 hectares of mangrove forest.
San Crisanto is a ejido — a piece of land owned by the state but jointly managed and managed by the local population. The mangroves also generate income from Conafor’s Environmental Services Payment Program. This year, the program will pay the ejido $53 for each of 340 acres of mangroves.
The ejido suggests the creation of a national mangrove network and a national coastal resource system.
“There needs to be some work to build the organization,” Loria says. “We are the starting point for correcting environmental processes and generating resilience.”
But despite San Crisanto’s successes, Loria recognizes problems as coastal erosion. This begs the question of how Mexico’s mangroves will tolerate rising seas as the planet warms.
Some researchers say that sea level rise in the next 30 years will outpace the rate at which mangroves accumulate sediment if warming continues at its current rate. This would drown the mangroves. Other scientists, working in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, say mangrove forests will be able to cope with rising seas differently.
Teutli is optimistic, saying that as sea levels rise, mangrove sediments accumulate, keeping the trees above water level.
“are adapting to flooding,” she says. “We used to think they wouldn’t tolerate it. Tropicalization is coming and it is going to help the mangroves.”
This article is part of a two story series sponsored by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.
© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service