The Magic of Mangroves

25 May 2021 (FAO)* — “We go to look for oysters in the mangroves to feed our families and for business. This is how I make a living. If I work for two to three days, I can earn money to cover my expenses,” says Fatou Sarr, President of the Women Transformers Group of Diamniadio, a cooperative and producers’ organization that supports small-scale oyster producers.

With backing from FAO and the Coastal Fisheries Initiatives, communities are on a mission to save natural habitats like mangroves to safeguard their local environments. ©FAO/Yacine Cissé

Entrepreneurs like Fatou are on a quest to save natural habitats, like the species-rich mangroves located in the Siné Saloum Delta – a UNESCO World Heritage site – in central Senegal.

These biodiverse environments are the breeding grounds for the fish and marine species on which local communities depend.

“In the mangroves, we find many varieties of fish. We Niominka, know the importance of the mangroves, that’s why we don’t destroy them,” Fatou said of her local fishing collective made up of people from Senegal’s third largest indigenous group, the Niominka.

Mangroves are sacred to them, and they are committed to protecting their heritage for both social and financial reasons.

Further south in the Delta, mangroves hold the same importance for Birama Diouf from Foundiougne, a main hub on the Siné Saloum river:

“At night I fish for shrimp; by day I catch other sorts of fish. The shrimp fishing works well, especially at this time of the year when they are plentiful,” he said. “The fish will always find refuge in the mangroves. The prawns also take refuge there. Shrimp feed off the mangroves bark and leaves,” he added.

Without mangroves – which are present in over 100 countries worldwide, all within tropical and subtropical regions – the entire ecosystem would change, and the livelihoods of these communities would disappear. For fish, mangroves are habitats to spawn, grow and shelter thanks to cooler waters, higher oxygen content and sprawling roots that act as a sanctuary from larger prey.

For the environment, mangrove forests are a crossroads for ocean, continental and instream ecosystems.

Yet mangroves are being placed in a perilous situation in the Saloum Delta as rising sea water levels have caused a spill over into these ecosystems, making the swampy waters overly saline. A growing demand for smoked fish products is also adding pressure.

Now, with financial backing from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other international conservation partners have set out to protect and restore these species and safeguard the livelihoods of fish dependent communities in and around the Siné Saloum Delta.

The programme, called the Coastal Fisheries Initiative (CFI), is investing in restoring degraded mangroves so that they can retain their important role in balancing ecosystems. The Initiative is regenerating land and replanting large areas of mangroves, while also working with communities to rethink how they utilise and conserve them.

Mangrove forests offer a multitude of benefits: they serve as nursery grounds for fish, barriers against storms, stabilizers of soils and sinks for carbon dioxide, making them crucial to fighting climate change. ©FAO/Yacine Cissé

Why mangroves matter

The magic of mangroves is multi-dimensional. They serve as nursery grounds for fish, act as barriers against storms and provide sources of wood for building and cooking. Their impressive network of roots also acts as a filter for sediment, cleaning up waterways while also stabilizing soils.

Yacoub Issola, Project Coordinator for the UNEP/Abidjan Convention, explains, “If today, we do not reforest the mangroves, the rainfall and the various activities will erode the bases. And, once those bases are gone, this soil will become barren, and nothing will be able to grow.”

Mangroves also play a pivotal role in combatting climate change; their soils act as effective carbon sinks that lock away large quantities of carbon dioxide, stopping it from entering the atmosphere.

This, in addition to being host habitats for countless species, means that mangroves help a multitude of living organisms to survive. These saline forests’ thick roots provide safety for both aquatic creatures and coastal communities alike.

The CFI works with local communities to protect native landscapes, like mangroves, on which they depend. In 2020, the Initiative sustainably managed 175 hectares of mangroves in Senegal. ©FAO/Yacine Cissé

Championing sustainable fisheries 

Fishers are not the only ones championing mangroves and sustainable fisheries in the zone. Fatou Ndong Sarr, President of the Local Federation of Economic Interest Groups, is also promoting the CFI’s objectives. This Federation invests in ensuring that women can earn a living from mangroves and the fish found in their ecosystems.

“We have a processing unit for shellfish products. We manage the entire production process here, from receiving the raw materials through to processing and packaging, we have about 20 women working with us,” she said.

The CFI is a collaborative Initiative that fosters climate-friendly activities, while strengthening fisheries value chains working together with local people to nurture native landscapes.

Through the CFI – which works in six countries across three continents – communities have restored and sustainably managed 175 hectares of mangrove ecosystems in Senegal in 2020 and a similar amount in Côte d’Ivoire.

The importance of mangroves and local ecosystems are becoming more widely appreciated with initiatives like the CFI and the Abidjan Convention, an important framework which helps national policy makers and resource managers implement protection measures in developing marine and coastal environments of west and central Africa.

As the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) gets going, the CFI, FAO and its partners are enhancing healthy mangrove ecosystems and their production capacities, restoring local habitats for the benefit of communities and the planet.

Learn more


2021 Human Wrongs Watch

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