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FEATURE: Protectors of the Mangroves, nature’s sea defence

by Tamara Rodney

Just where the waters meet the land are the mangroves, a rich habitat, which forms a natural protection for shores and coastlines in tropical and subtropical regions. Mangrove forests thrive in conditions that are unbearable to other plants.Distinguished by their raised roots which take in oxygen, they blanket the land edges forming barriers from floods and storms. In fact, “a mangrove stand of 30 trees per 0.01 hectare with a depth of 100 m can reduce the destructive force of a tsunami by up to 90%”- Hirashi and Harada 2003.

mangroves testingnurseryMangroves grow in salt water, brackish water(where salt and fresh water meet) and water with low oxygen levels, yet they are multifaceted and form some of the most complex ecosystems which aid in sustaining animal and plant life.Yet, these natural frontiers have been deforested much more that rain forest trees. As a result, coastal and other river areas are vulnerable to natural disasters like floods and tropical storms and loss of economic activities.

In light of climate change, and global warming, countries with mangrove forests are restoring and protecting these trees since they have the ability to trap 10 % more carbon that trees found in the forests. Mangroves also prevent soil erosion and the nutrient and minerals found in their roots sustain plankton and algae, which benefit fish and other aquatic life.

Like many other countries, Guyana is implementing methods to mitigate the effects of climate change. As the home to many waters, this South American country lies in the bosom of the Amazon. Its wealth of rivers and tributaries that are carved throughout the land makes it a heaven for mangroves.

The Low Costal Plain, which stretches 459 kilometers north- east of the country is where most of the people live. The Atlantic Ocean washes upon the shores of this flat, flood prone land that is below sea level.Many of themangroves found here were destroyed by infrastructure development. This has resulted in over tapping and floods in some coastal areas.

 With the realization of the need and importancefor these natural protectors, the Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project was launched in 2010. This project was funded by the European Union and the government of Guyana. It entails replanting and protecting courida(the local name for mangroves) in the villages around the country, including Golden Grove, Coven John, Victoria and Belfield.

The Grove/Belfield Mangrove Restoration Project, is now a community effort under the guidance of the National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI). “We have a mangrove ranger who is responsible for maintaining three miles of mangroves. He ensures that people do not destroy the mangroves and provides reports to NARI”, says Avnel Woode- Representative of the Mangrove Reserve Producers Co-op Society/ Tourguide.

What was once a dump site is now a blooming mangrove reserve and a treat for site visits and relaxation. This project entails the efforts of organisations as well as the people in the communities. These include mangrove harvesters, planters and rangers who were challenged by the waters from the oceans but they found effective solutions. “The mangroves that were planted in Victoria, which was the second area in this project, was washed away. Two Geo- textile tubes (which are bio- degradable) were then placed in the ocean to break down the energy of the waves. It then allows the water with the sediments to flow over into the mangrove area. The sediments form a nutritious soil build up where the mangroves are regenerated with ease”, explained Woode.mangrove reserve

The three types of mangroves grown in this reserve are the black (Avicennia germinans), red (Rhizophora mangle) and white (Laguncularia racemosa) mangroves. The black is the dominant species in Guyana and grow in very high saline water.

The reserve is just minutes away from the busy main road, nestled behind the sea wall. For tourist visits, the trip begins at an old plantation house in Cove and John, accented with tastes of local treats and culture including drumming and masquerade. Visitors then get a chance to trek through the compound to the reserve and  journey all the way to Belfield and back. “We want to create mangrove awareness and at the same time combine culture and give community members a chance to benefit from this reserve. Before the tours started, a Mangrove Action Committee was established where we went door to door to tell the people about he importance of the mangroves”, added Woode.

During my visit there it was quiet, no tours were happening, but there were a few visitors taking in the serenity the reserve offered. A few joggers passed by. The green landscape is welcoming and also yields traditional medicinal plants and other trees. The sea wall in that area has markings that remind us to protect mangroves. Just beyond- a mangrove paradise regenerates its kind with the help of humans. “Let us protect what we have, if not, the future generation would have to contend with desolation”- Woode.

The mangroves are great since they protect the soil, but I come here a lot because it is quiet and breezy. I get to think”- Richard Prince.

“I love the calm, I don’t feel like leaving, it’s peaceful”, a relaxed Kishona Mathurin told Demerara Waves

It seems like the Mangrove Reserve not only helps to protect us from the heavy hand of nature but it alternately makes a quiet getaway for people.Other mangrove reserves found in Guyana are Mon Repos, Hope Beach and Ruimzeight. It is now unlawful to remove and destroy mangroves.