May 12, Colombo: Sri Lanka has become the first nation in the world to comprehensively protect all of its mangrove forests.
U.S.-based nonprofit organization Seacology and Sri Lanka-based NGO Sudeesa, which was formerly known as the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka, along with the Sri Lankan government have announced a joint program that will make Sri Lanka the first nation in the world to comprehensively protect all of its mangrove forests.
Announcing the program at a media briefing in Colombo, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said it is the responsibility and the necessity of all government institutions, private institutions, non-government organizations, researchers, intelligentsia, and civil community to be united to protect the mangrove ecosystem.
"I highly appreciate and admire the joint effort made by the international non-governmental organizations Seacology and the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka to conserve the mangrove ecosystem of Sri Lanka."
Mangroves, which are tropical trees that have thick, stilt like roots and grow in brackish swamps and shallow salt water, are vitally important since they play an important role in ameliorating climate change.
Mangrove forests also provide a key buffer, greatly decreasing damage caused by tsunamis, hurricanes, and other storms.
The root system of the trees also serves as nurseries for many species of fish that go on to populate coral reefs.
Sri Lanka has 21 species of mangroves, making it a global hotspot for mangrove biodiversity. But recently mangroves have been extensively and often illegally cleared, partly to make way for shrimp ponds.
The project will cost US$ 3.4 million over the next five years. Seacology has already raised approximately half of this amount.
This project will protect all 21,782 acres (8,815 ha) of Sri Lanka's existing mangrove forests by providing alternative job training and microloans to 15,000 impoverished women who live in 1,500 small communities adjacent to the mangrove forests.
The project will also replant 9,600 acres (3,885 ha) of mangrove forests that have been cut down.
In exchange for receiving these microloans to start up small businesses, all 1,500 communities will be responsible for protecting an average of 21 acres of mangrove forest.
A first-of-its kind mangrove museum to educate the public about the importance of preserving this resource will also be constructed as part of this project.
While no charitable funds will be given to the government of Sri Lanka, it will play an important role in this effort by demarcating and gazetting mangrove forests, providing legal protection for all of Sri Lanka's mangroves and providing rangers to patrol mangrove forests.
Duane Silverstein, executive director of Seacology, said the NGO has worked for over two years putting the project together.
Silverstein said the NGO believes that the project will serve as a model of protection of mangrove forests and the blue carbon they harbor for other nations to emulate.
Anuradha Wickramasinghe, chairman of Sudeesa said the effort not only protects Sri Lanka's mangrove forests but also helps some of Sri Lanka's poorest citizens find sustainable livelihoods.
The California-based Seacology protects the marine and terrestrial environments of islands -the site of over half of all plant and animal extinctions in recorded history - throughout the world. Seacology has been widely recognized for its efforts.
Sri Lanka based NGO Sudeesa improves the quality of life of low income families by providing appropriate skills and investments for environmentally-friendly vocations which safeguard Sri Lanka's coastal ecosystems.