Malaysia needs to urgently commit to protecting and conserving mangrove forests


Mangrove forest and mudflats near Kuala Sungai Abdul in Bagan Belat, Butterworth, Penang. — Filepic/The Star

ON July 26 every year, the world celebrates the International Day for the Conservation of Mangrove Ecosystems. This celebration was declared by Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) to raise awareness about the importance of mangrove ecosystems to ensure the continuity of its role for global well-being.

Coastal mangrove forests refer to an area of forest in the coastal intertidal zone. The main species here comprise mangrove tree species that serve as defensive stands – or coastal fortification against erosion and natural disasters – and protection of fishery resources.

A mangrove forest is an area with high biodiversity with various species, such as bruguiera, rhizophora, avicennia, sonneratia, etc. The mangrove forest is also a habitat for various species of fauna such as monkeys, snakes, otters and birds as well as for various types of shellfish, crustaceans and fish.

This ecosystem is also able to reduce vulnerability to natural disasters and extreme climatic events and is our natural coastal defence system.

The dense growth of mangrove forests is able to protect against property destruction and loss of lives by absorbing the velocity of waves and calming currents during natural disasters. Mangroves protect coastal settlements by absorbing 70% to 90% of wave energy depending on the physical characteristics and health of the ecosystem in an area.

Mangroves are also carbon sinks. The results of a carbon assessment study found that mangrove trees aged four to 13 years old can store between 7.25 tonnes and 83.35 tonnes of the global warming gas carbon with a rate of carbon sequestration between 1.7 tonnes and six tonnes per hectare per year. Therefore mangrove trees are a unique and natural way to reduce the effects of global warming and climate change.

Mangrove forests are very important for fishery resources as they provide food and a habitat for juvenile fish and a variety of marine life. The unique roots of the mangrove trees serve as a nursery and generate sources of food as well as a place for young fish and other marine life to reach maturity.

According to a 2006 United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre report, a 400sq km of managed mangrove forest in Matang, Perak, supported a fishery valued at US$100mil (RM423mil at today’s rates) a year or US$250,000 (RM1.06mil) per square kilometre a year. Thus conserving mangrove forests is protecting our seafood resources which contributes to the country's food security.

In addition, fruits and leaves from selected mangrove species can be processed and given added value to support the local economy. Among the traditional snacks and cakes made from mangrove fruits or leaves are onde-onde buah api-api, lepat buah api-api, bubur buah berus, juice from berembang fruit, tea from jeruju leaves, and fritters made from piai leaves.

There are special preparation methods before the mangrove fruits and leaves can be used and eaten. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) – with input from the women’s group in the Penang Inshore Fishermen Welfare Association and other mangrove community groups – has documented these processes and recipes to popularise the sustainable use of resources from mangrove forests.

The efforts to protect and conserve mangrove forests must be intensified. Degraded areas must be rehabilitated. SAM, together with coastal and local communities as well as volunteers, conducts many activities to rehabilitate these important habitats to restore their function and biodiversity and contribute to improved livelihoods.

Therefore, in conjunction with the International Day for the Conservation of Mangrove Ecosystem, SAM calls on all parties to give their full commitment to maintaining mangrove forests and coastal areas as natural areas. SAM believes that conserving and improving mangrove forest ecosystems will provide infinite value to our coastal safety and the country’s biodiversity and food resources.

Mangrove forests play diverse roles including protecting biodiversity, the coast and fisheries resources, thus contributing to the economy and local livelihoods.

We must protect and conserve our mangrove ecosystems!

MEENAKSHI RAMAN

President, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)

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