Amid growing evidence of the significant opportunities mangroves offer for climate change adaptation and mitigation, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu called for more convergence among member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in promoting mangrove development and conservation.
"With the conservation and management strategies that our respective countries are implementing, I encourage convergence of our research and development efforts for a sustainable region-wide mangrove conservation," Cimatu said in his keynote address at the 2nd ASEAN Mangrove Congress held in Manila from September 5 to 7.
Cimatu said that convergence in mangrove research and development is the key to protecting the region against the devastating effects of climate change and global warming.
"Let us continue our pursuit of research-driven strategies and policies to effectively manage and conserve our mangrove resources," Cimatu told conference participants, which include mangrove practitioners, government officials, scientists and academicians.
He added: "Let us continue transferring the knowledge we have gathered into responsible community-based practices."
Cimatu said that it is important for ASEAN countries to "work as one" given the fact that the region is highly vulnerable to climate change as a large portion of its population and economic activities are concentrated along coastlines.
In fact, he said, some of the ASEAN countries already started to experience the impacts of climate change, such as increasing number of tropical cyclones, extreme flooding, storm surges, landslides, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion.
He cited in particular tropical cyclone Nargis that affected almost 2.4 million people and killed almost 100,000 in Myanmar in 2008; the 2004 killer tsunami that hit Thailand; and super typhoon Yolanda (a.k.a. Haiyan) that killed thousands of people and drove nearly four million people out of their homes in central Philippines in 2013.
Cimatu said that the ASEAN region is also expected to face the worst impacts of climate change by year 2100 with a 4.8 degrees Celsius rise in mean annual temperature and a 70-centimeter rise in mean sea level, as projected in recent studies by the Asian Development Bank.
These impacts include a rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere partly due to low carbon sequestration potential of forests, increasing water stress, and high incidence of illnesses and infections.
In the wake of climate-induced disasters and other devastating effects of global warming, Cimatu said the lowly mangroves bring hope in the fight against climate change.
"Mangroves provide protection against extreme weather events like storm winds and coastal flooding, and even earthquake-induced event such as tsunamis," Cimatu said.
The environment chief noted that a number of research findings revealed that a wide extent of at least one kilometer mangroves can weaken waves by as much as 75 percent through its vast underground root networks and high vegetation structural complexity.
"Mangroves also serve as both sources and sinks of atmospheric carbon dioxide as these plants can sequester carbon dioxide and store the carbon compounds in their biomass and in the soil," Cimatu said.
"Therefore, effective and sustainable management efforts are essential to reverse rapid mangrove loss and improve our resilience to the impacts of climate change," he added.
Cimatu said that out of the 18 million hectares of mangrove forest globally, 35 percent of the area coverage are found in Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
"Mangrove forest is an important ecosystem in many ASEAN countries," Cimatu pointed out. "It serves as a source of income and livelihood of many coastal communities."
"Mangroves also protect these communities from hazards induced by storms and typhoons, and provide shelter and nursery ground to a diverse community of organisms."
The 2nd ASEAN Mangrove Congress is organized by the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
This was the second time the Philippines hosted the event. The first ASEAN Mangrove Congress was also held in the country in December 2012.
Source: Department of Environment and Natural Resources