Mangroves–and coastal women–thrive in Sri Lanka
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!