To fight climate change, Kenya mangroves work as carbon stores


On the shores of the Indian Ocean, over a dozen people are circulating on a Kenyan North Coast beach, mangrove seeds in hand, while others are digging in the sand to plant new saplings of the native tree, which grows in brackish water. 

The beach is quite silent, with a gentle breeze sweeping over the salty water of the ocean, creating a mild wave crawling to shore. It is morning, with the sun looking like a bright ball floating on the water. Posing like a yellow lollipop on the horizon, the great light is on its daily mission to rise gradually to shine bright over the earth.

The sea is calm, and the whole area is like a sacred space of coves and creeks along Kenya’s coast with an inlet visible in the distance letting all the ocean water in.

“No one is paying us to conserve our mangrove forests, [but] here we are planting them,” said Timothy Mwakideu, wearing the type of shiny-dark silver sunglasses normally seen on the face of an astronaut.

Timothy is a fisherman, but that day he skipped work to join a community-led mangrove conservation exercise.

He said the locals used to like cutting mangroves for the excellent charcoal they got from them, but now they get more in return for conserving the mangrove forests, which are part of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest.

“As a community, we conserve this area because these mangroves are very important to us and important for animals like crabs and fish who eat the leaves, the barracudas, and the red snappers who lay eggs over here,” he told Anadolu Agency while planting a mangrove seed in a fresh hole.

“The mangroves are very important to us and future generations.”

According to the state Kenya Forest Service (KFS), the forest, which contains both terrestrial and mangrove trees, used to stretch all the way from Somalia to Mozambique, but over the years human activities and climate change have wiped out its sections in Somalia and Mozambique.

Anti-climate change champ

But in Kenya, the protected forest is thriving alongside a community known to be a clan of forest protectors, and it has been recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve for its flora and fauna, which are of unusual natural and scientific interest.

Through years of research, scientists have discovered that the terrestrial trees which grow in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest have amazing mechanisms to help fight climate change. They can help deal with the current climate change crisis in East Africa.

What is more, following a study this May, scientists discovered that the mangroves in the area have a remarkable carbon-storing capacity, absorbing 5 to 10 times more carbon from the atmosphere than terrestrial trees.

Griet Ingrid Dierckxsens from the UN Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) told Anadolu Agency that the community-led carbon offsetting project is in line with the program’s mission.

“We have this huge thing hanging above our heads which is climate change, and it’s all about carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere,” she explained.

“We have nature-based solutions here, as mangroves work as stores for carbon.”

According to the UN, 11% of all carbon emissions stem from the cutting of forests, more than the amount emitted from all means of transportation combined.

Carbon credits, eco-friendly income

Aware of the major role of mangroves in fighting climate change, the locals have been benefiting from alternative ways to make money other than selling charcoal from mangroves.

Options include selling the abundant fish as well as the flourishing eco-tourism industry, but above all, locals sell carbon credits stored in the forests on the international market.

The rooting system in the mangroves is unique in that they are able to absorb more carbon than any other tree species along the coastal area, and are thus well equipped to fight climate change.

George Wara, an ecosystem conservator from the Kenya Forest Service, said the community is able to sell carbon credits to international markets for some 1.5 million Kenya shillings ($15,000).

According to the UN environment office in the capital Nairobi, carbon credits are tradable certificates that represent the reduction of one ton of carbon dioxide or the equivalent measurement of another greenhouse gas.

Organizations can offset or neutralize their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing these credits, which directly support emission reduction projects in developing countries.

From the money they earn, the locals have started projects such as supplying books to schools, providing water for local communities, and creating employment opportunities for locals working in the forests.

Abel Kiprono from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute explained how the credits are measured.

“In the mangrove ecosystem, we quantify the amount of carbon in the standing biomass of a tree from above and below,” he said.

“Through the quantification of the mangrove in the carbon ecosystem you can determine the amount of carbon stored in the trees.”

He added: “The external buyers contribute to the community by giving them credits because of the conservation and intake of carbon from their mangrove ecosystem.”

The Arabuko-Sokoke forest boasts over 500 plant species, 300 recorded bird species with some emigrating from Europe to lay eggs, and 90% of the world population of Clarke’s weaver bird and the elephant shrew.

It is also home to over 40 variety of mammal species — including elephants — and 230 species of butterflies.
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