Mangroves, the only type of tree which spends its entire life submerged in saltwater, offer a bounty of benefits. During storms, they act as natural buffers against the sea, protecting homes and lives by absorbing wave surges (an even more important feature given the threat of climate change). By trapping sediments, mangroves help slow down land erosion, a serious problem for agricultural and property development.
And the livelihoods of local fishermen are often staked to the health of mangroves, as they provide habitats for aquaculture catches such as crabs and shrimps, nursery grounds for 70% of commercially caught fish, and act as a critical force in balancing the flow of nutrients out to sea that enable nearby coral reefs to thrive.
In their heyday, mangrove forests could be found along most coastlines in Mauritius. Today, they exist in sizeable populations only in the northeast and east coasts of the island, with some in the southwest. A variety of factors led to widespread degradation and weakened health of “the natural resource base of the coastal zone”: deforestation for building coastal infrastructure, new public beaches, and fish farming purposes, as well as trees cut down (often illegally) for boat access, and sewage, industrial, and agricultural waste and runoff.
In response, the Ministry of Fisheries and Rodrigues started the Mangrove Propagation Programme in 1995 to protect and reforest degraded areas. As of 2007, 214,800 were planted over 13 hectares, with an estimated survival rate of 78%, bringing the total area of mangroves in Mauritius to about 23 hectares.
In 2012, the Ministry of Fisheries and Rodrigues supervised ELI Africa’s propagation of mangroves in Anse Jonchee, Providence, Bois des Amourettes, and Bambous Virieux. With the help of local laborers and volunteers, over 14,000 propagules were planted, led by Mr Gaurav Dabeesingh. ELI Africa plans to plant more mangroves in the region of Grand River South East in 2015 with the help of local communities. Our students, who are learning about the importance of mangroves during their environmental classes will also get involved.