Mangrove reforestation training is underway at TIDE. Bob Riley from mangrove.org arrived yesterday to help us reforest Abalone Caye.
Most people have heard of mangroves; a remarkable tree species that can live and flourish in salt environments. Many have even seen them; a mass of trees spreading from land into the sea, existing in an area known as the intertidal zone of oceans or rivers. But do you know how important they are for our ecosystems? They provide habitats for fish, crab, shrimp, oysters, barnacles and birds sponges and their roots are sheltered and act as nurseries. They reduce coastal erosion by trapping sediment and they increase employment to fishers and tour guides across the world. They provide a lifeline and a lifecycle for so many species on our planet.
Yet today, we are facing crisis along our coastlines because mangroves are being deforested leaving land open to the elements and erosion. TIDE itself is facing this problem. After building our marine ranger station on Abalone Caye, the island has rapidly eroded. Over the past few years we have been adding a rock barrier, however the erosion is still occuring and the situation has now reached a critical level!
The problem is, once mangroves have been deforested they are incredibly hard to replant. TIDE has secured funding from the European Union via the Belize National Climate Change Office to bring in expert Bob Riley. Over the next two days trainees from TIDE including community researchers and Science Director, James Foley, a villager from Punta Negra, representative from SEA and Val Rosado representing Ministry of Forestry, Fishing and Sustainable Development will all carry out mangrove reforestation training on Abalone Caye. They will be planting both red and black mangrove seedlings and seeds around Abalone Caye using the Riley Encased Methology (REM) and the existing sea wall.
REM is a technique of planting and growing mangroves that can be implemented in areas of high energy where mangroves cannot naturally seed themselves. These are usually coasts where strong waves and winds hit the coastline and would wash away any natural growth. The methodology involves working with the structure of the coast to insert 1.5 - 2 metres of cylindrical PVC encasing into the ground. This creates a stable and isolated environment in which the mangrove seedling can grow without pressure from grazing animals and severe weather.
The encasing is split down the middle and breaks apart with pressure as the mangrove grows to allow the mangrove to mature steadily outwards. The casing allows light to reach the plant and water to enter with the tide. This means the mangroves can grow surrounded by their natural environment, allowing them to become self-regulated, strong and independent, even when the casing drops away. The mangrove reforestation is a long-term project that will run over a five-year period, however regular monitoring should be carried out during the first two years. It is hoped our mangrove seedlings will become reproductive trees, then we can leave the rest to nature!
The mangrove reforestation project at TIDE hopes to see a number of improvements around Abalone; once the mangroves have fully matured, it is hoped the trees will protect the coast from erosion as their dense root systems trap sediments and this stabilises the land behind. By ensuring sediment stays in place, mangroves also protect coral reefs and sea grass beds.
Mangrove roots are also important habitats for many species of fish, crab, shrimp, oysters, barnacles and sponges as their roots are sheltered and they act as a nurseries. The presence of mangroves increases the populations of multiple fish species including coral reef fish and commercial species. They increase the amount of biodiversity in an area, which increases jobs in fishing and tourism. TIDE could hopefully even begin conducting tours of mangrove ecosystems in a decades time!
TIDE has had a wonderful experience learning about mangroves with the help of Bob Riley and we hope the reforesting works at Abalone Caye! We will keep you updated. To learn more about mangrove reforestation visit http://mangrove.org/.