Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mangroves help Guyana defend against changing climate

Desmond Brown in IPS: Theola Fortune can recall how residents of Victoria would ridicule her and others every time they went into the east coast village to warn residents about the importance of mangroves and the need to protect them.

“They would accuse us of breeding mosquitoes in the community,” Fortune said. Yet scientists say that mangrove trees, which grow mainly in tropical and subtropical regions, can shield cities and towns from rising seas and storm surges by creating a natural barrier where the ocean meets the land.

Approximately 90 percent of Guyana’s population lives on a narrow coastline strip a half to one metre below sea level. That coastal belt is protected by seawall barriers that have existed since the Dutch occupation of the country. In recent times, however, severe storms have toppled these defences, resulting in significant flooding, a danger scientists predict may become more frequent.

After huge waves breached the seawalls on more than one occasion this year alone, Fortune said, “residents are finally beginning to realise that mangroves could help to protect their community” from destruction, in addition to saving lives.

Fortune, Avnel Wood and Kene Moseley are among the women who, as part of the Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project (GMRP), are combining commercial activity with spreading the word on the importance of protecting coastal mangroves.

...Wood does not doubt what is causing the unusually high waves and frequent topping of the seawalls. “This is a product of climate change,” she told IPS. “There is nothing in that [coastal] area to break the energy of the waves because there are no mangroves at that part of the seawall.” Scientists say that mangroves also play an important role in combating climate change because they store ten times more carbon than any other tree in Guyana’s forests....

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