SOUTH TARAWA, March 29, 2011—Over 37,000 mangrove seedlings have recently been planted on the islands of Aranuka, Butaritari, Maiana, Makin and in North and South Tarawa.
The seedlings were planted through an activity funded by KAPII (Kiribati Adaptation Program Phase II) under the supervision of the Government of Kiribati's Environment and Conservation Division.
Turang Favae, Acting Biodiversity and Conservation Officer at the Environment and Conservation Division says, "First and foremost it contributes to the building of coastlines and protects our shores against coastal erosion."
Mangroves, although considered a 'soft' option when compared to seawalls, can be one of the most effective forms of coastal protection that in addition provide a range of other benefits.
"We see mangroves as an important habitat for marine life that use the mangroves as their homes. In that sense mangrove ecosystems are important to the marine species that we depend on for our livelihoods," says Mrs. Favae. "They also contribute to the natural carbon dioxide cycle, act as buffers to storm surges and sea sprays and help filter nutrient runoff from land as mangrove roots absorb these nutrients and reduce pollution impacts on the sea."
Dr. Helene Jacot Des Combes, of the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, sees mangroves as a coastal protection option that can go beyond government and into the hands of the people.
"It is a solution that is not as costly as others and it can be done by the community, there is no real maintenance required and it profits the community by providing extra food and fire wood," says Dr. Jacot Des Combe.
Community involvement in the planting is indeed central to the planting programme implemented in Kiribati confirms Mrs. Favae. "The importance of engaging the community is to gain their full support in the management of the mangroves themselves. We encourage and practice mangrove planting with communities, youth groups and school students so they can see the importance of planting and gain a sense of ownership to look after and manage the mangroves."
The Government of Kiribati has long recognised the importance of healthy coastal ecosystems and well managed coastal protection. Mangrove planting is seen to support these national aims that are outlined in both the 2008-2011 Kiribati Development Plan (KDP) and the 2006-2010 Kiribati National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan (NBSAP).
"To replant native plants contributes to the renewal of the ecosystem. When planting is successful it has impacts both on the protection of the coast and also for food security by providing more fish and crabs for the community,"says Dr. Jacot Des Combe.
In Kiribati mangroves are also culturally important as they are utilised as a source of building materials, dye and medicine. Yet one issue encountered has been barnacles that have caused the destruction of smaller seedlings, particularly in South Tarawa.
Mrs. Favae has long been concerned about this issue. "It appears there is not much we can do about the barnacles, as it has been suggested their presence is linked to sea water salinity levels."
Regardless of the obstacles faced, the program has proved successful with the majority of seedlings planted now growing towards becoming healthy mature plants.
Perhaps most importantly public awareness of the importance of mangroves is growing in Kiribati. To lead by example, the President of Kiribati himself recently planted mangroves alongside local youths in South Tarawa.
Through her experience in the Outer Islands, Mrs. Favae knows that "community support is essential to the sustainability of mangroves." The significance of this cannot be understated, as mangrove planting is a climate adaptation strategy that truly places the ability to act into the hands of the people of Kiribati.
The Government of Kiribati KAPII project is supported by the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, AusAID and the New Zealand Aid Programme. The key goal is to reduce Kiribati's vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise.