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Seacology marks big successes in Sri Lanka on World Mangrove Day

July 25, 2016

A year into a groundbreaking program to protect all mangrove forests in Sri Lanka by enlisting the help of coastal communities, the news is good. The forests are being protected, and some of the poorest women in Sri Lanka are receiving microloans and job training.

The world’s first mangrove museum was officially opened by Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena on World Mangrove Day, July 26. The museum will offer conservation training and expects to welcome more than 20,000 schoolchildren in its first year.

Sri Lanka is the first country in the world to protect all of its mangrove forests. And as these forests, which sequester much more carbon than other types of forests, emerge as a key weapon in the fight against climate change, the program is poised to become a model for other countries.

“Sri Lanka is showing that it is possible to conserve mangrove forests whilst improving the lives of local people, restoring wildlife habitats, and helping to ameliorate climate change. We hope that other countries will follow Sri Lanka’s lead.” — Dhammika Wijayasinghe, Secretary General, Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO

The need to protect mangroves is urgent. In the last 50 years, over half the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed. Almost three quarters of Sri Lanka’s mangrove forests have been lost, largely due to the devastating Civil War (1983-2009) and to the cutting of trees for fuel or development.

“It is my hope that this would be the beginning of a long-term effort to sustain the mangroves.”— Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

Launched in May 2015, this project was the brainchild of a small NGO halfway across the world near San Francisco: island conservation organization Seacology, which raised $3.4 million for the five-year effort. Partnering with the Sri Lankan government and local NGO Sudeesa, it’s already seen significant results:

  • The Sri Lankan government has surveyed all of the country’s 37,050 acres of mangrove forests—identifying previously unknown areas—and introduced legislation to protect them. Forest officers have been assigned to help guard them.
  • Sudeesa nurseries have grown more than a quarter of a million mangrove seedlings, and 50,000 have been planted with the help of the Sri Lankan Navy, schoolchildren, and community members. More than 1,000 acres of forests will be replanted in 2016, and another 8,600 acres over the project’s lifetime.
  • Sudeesa is providing job training and microloans, financed by Seacology, to women and youth in coastal communities. This lets poor families earn a sustainable living without cutting mangroves. So far, 438 community organizations have been set up, 575 women and 348 youths have completed training programs, and 381 women have received microloans. In return, each community has agreed to help protect 21 acres of mangrove forests.

“By offering training and funding to develop alternatives to cutting mangroves, the project is alleviating poverty as well as protecting mangroves. It’s a win-win situation.”— Duane Silverstein, Seacology Executive Director

Over the next four years, Sudeesa will train another 6,925 women and 7,152 youths, and offer 14,619 more microloans to meet the target of providing job training and microloans to 15,000 women and youths in 1,500 communities.