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Mangroves–and coastal women–thrive in Sri Lanka

June 3, 2020
Seacology’s first nationwide project wraps up after five-year partnership

By Karen Peterson
Senior Manager for Special Initiatives

Mangrove forests–those dense tangles of trees with their distinctive stilt-like roots, rising from brackish coastal waters–have become the focus of many conservation efforts. Healthy mangrove ecosystems provide immense benefits: They protect coastal communities from damaging wind and waves, provide a critical nursery for fish and other creatures, and trap far more carbon than do other kinds of forest.

So when Seacology went looking for a nationwide project, we quickly settled on protecting mangroves. Almost as quickly, we also settled on the island nation of Sri Lanka, off the southern coast of India. The island is circled by vast forests that contain an amazing 23 species of mangroves.

Conservation wins

We launched our five-year mangrove conservation project in 2015, and are delighted to report that the conservation results have exceeded our expectations:

  • More than 36,000 acres of mangrove ecosystem have been mapped.
  • Over 1,200 acres of mangroves have been replanted (and there are plans to expand this enormously).
  • Almost a million mangrove seedlings have been raised in new nurseries–double the project’s goal.
  • A new center in the war-torn Northern Province now offers training to local people.
  • The world’s first mangrove museum opened on World Mangrove Day in 2016 and has hosted over 18,000 visitors.

 

Sri Lanka's dense mangroves help sustain the country's fisheries.

Local women plant mangroves at Kalpitiya Lagoon.

Help for communities

Like all Seacology projects, this one also  involved working closely with communities and making sure they benefit from conservation. We focused on supporting women, many of whom were widowed in the long civil war that ended in 2009, and youth who live near mangrove forests.

Working with our Sri Lankan partner organization Sudeesa, Seacology funded business training for more than 14,000 people. Almost 12,000 of them received microloans to start or improve businesses. The women created small groups, called Community Beneficiary Organizations (CBOs) to manage the process. Borrowers repay loans to their own CBO, which then makes more loans. This structure minimizes bureaucracy and strengthens the autonomy of marginalized communities.

Members of the cooperatives also protect and replant their local mangrove forests. This increases the communities’ resilience in the face of typhoons and tsunamis, and promotes clean water and healthy fisheries.

Sri Lankan women participate in a three-day training session for community members at Iranawila village, in Puttalum District.

One project participant opened a retail shop with a Rs 10,000 microloan obtained from the microfinance component of the program.

The world notices

The project has received substantial international recognition. The United Nations gave Seacology a UNFCCC Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activity Award, recognizing the project’s work to fight climate change. The project was showcased at World Water Week in Stockholm in 2018, featured in the UN Climate Change Secretariat’s 2019 Yearbook of Global Climate Action, and will appear as a case study in Harvard’s Planetary Health curriculum.

Karen Peterson discusses the project at COP24 in Poland.

Duane Silverstein receives the Momentum For Change award from UNFCCC Secretary Patricia Espinosa.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland visits Sudeesa headquarters.

2019 Sudeesa receives a 2019 Presidential Environment Award, presented by former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

Help from our friends

This enormous project could never have succeeded without our Sri Lankan partners. The dedicated staff of our NGO partner Sudeesa worked tirelessly. Dr. Leela Padmini Batuwitage, our in-country field representative, played a critical role and continues to monitor mangrove conservation efforts in communities throughout the country. The Sri Lankan government expedited mangrove mapping and was named a  leader of a Commonwealth of Nations mangrove conservation initiative. It also proudly issued stamps featuring the country’s mangrove species and mangrove museum. The Sri Lankan Navy became a staunch ally, planting and protecting mangrove as well as transporting seedlings.

The final piece of the puzzle was support from many generous donors who helped make this ambitious project such a rousing success. We will always be grateful!

Members of the Sri Lanka Navy assist with mangrove restoration.

Dr. Leela Padmini Batuwitage discusses mangroves with a group of schoolchildren at the Seacology-Sudeesa Mangrove Museum.