Mangroves: Buffer, Economic Engine, and Carbon Store
In Senegal, mangroves dominate the coastal regions and for good reason. The mighty Senegalise mangrove provides one of the most biodiverse habitats that can be found anywhere on Earth and an equally-diverse economy stemming from it, specifically in the Sine-Saloum Delta and the Casamance zone. But what makes the mangrove such a benefactor for the people of southern Senegal?
Mangroves act as natural filters due to their position between the ocean and land which means they have adapted to live in salty water. Because of this, they naturally filter the water from the sea which can, in turn, be used by the farmers of the Sine-Saloum to irrigate their fields and produce the crops that sustain them. They also reduce flooding and soil erosion by absorbing excess water in their famous root systems and anchoring the soil they call home in place.
In addition, the fish, shrimp, oysters, and other mollusks that come from these ecosystems support the economies of towns like Fatick, Toubacouta, and Foundiougne.
Outside of the economic benefits, these mangroves unwittingly participate in the fight against climate change in a big way as they act as a carbon sink due to their dense foliage and complex root systems that extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground. This allows it to nourish the soil in the delta and remove it from Earth’s atmosphere preventing it from contributing to the global climate temperature increase.
Supporting mangrove protection through community stewardship in Senegal
In recent decades, the diminishing mangrove coverage in Sine-Saloum has led to it becoming one of the regions to receive protection by the Senegalese government. This protection has led to additional projects such as the Mécanisme de Développement Propre (Clean Development Mechanism) which was born out of the Kyoto Protocol of 2005 that has established financing for projects that take clean and green approaches to combatting the rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Since 2008, Oceanium and Dannon have served as financiers to two projects in the Sine-Saloum and Casamance to re-plant a total of 17,000 hectares of mangroves.
These projects worked locally in Senegal and mobilized 100,000 residents in 350 villages to undertake these efforts. The new mangroves totalled nearly 80 million trees, leading to new habitats for 18,000 metric tonnes of fish and other marine species that are now responsibly harvested for production and consumption for the local populations of the two regions. These new mangroves will also serve to limit coastal erosion in the region and give new life to communities that were previously at risk of losing some of the land they called home to climate change and soil loss. Scientists of the project predict that these newly developed mangroves can also sequester 500,000 tonnes of CO2 within only 20 years of the project’s launch.
Mangroves work for the climate, for nature and for social justice
The replanting and care of mangroves in southern Senegal has served as a catalyst for local economies and a critical boost to the ecological health and biodiversity of the region. Mangroves are some of the most prolific ecosystems on Earth and have served the communities that depend on them, like Toubacouta, Senegal, where I spent my time where I saw first-hand not only the natural beauty of these ecosystems and the biodiversity therein but also the real, visible benefits they provide for the people of the Sine-Saloum Delta.
It could not be more urgent, in a time of serious shifts in the global climate, to do all we can to remove gases like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and by protecting and expanding the world’s mangroves we can go a long way in accomplishing this mission while also providing stability for the communities that count on them.