Mangroves are well-known for their environmental benefits and yet it seems as though efforts to propagate them have known little success. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) many small islands like Mauritius and their environments face great survival risks. With global warming getting progressively worse by the year, the effects of climate change have become an issue we can no longer ignore. The time now, as scientists and Mauritian authorities alike have stressed, is to make the protection of our environment a priority.
Mangroves are, according to the NASA, “among the most biologically important ecosystems on the planet”. On top of preventing soil erosion, the Journal of Coastal Development affirm that these also provide natural habitats, feeding-places and nurseries for marine species. They filter water and allow fish, especially juveniles, to thrive. Efforts to protect mangroves have been made. The launch of the Mangroves Protection Programme, and legislation like the Fisheries and Marine Resources Act of 1998 which protect mangroves are proof of goodwill.
And yet, we cannot really boast about great results. One of the causes of this is inadequate planting of mangroves. Mangroves thrive in murky waters; they are wetland plants. And while mangrove forests have been re-planted near the shore in areas like Case Noyale, other mangrove forests (or simply forests) in Grand Sable for instance have been planted in dry soil. According to marine scientist Mark Spalding from the University of Siena, this phenomenon which occurs around the world is a result of legal constraints. Oftentimes, especially in Mauritius, beaches are owned by private individuals and their property extend to the beach and even the shoreline. Authorities then have to fall back on whatever state-owned land is available. Yet, in the case of Grand Sable, it was a small association of local people who took on this endeavour.
The local association could not be contacted but Mark Spalding points out that in general, what happens is that people plant the wrong kind of mangrove in the wrong place and so the plants do not attain maturity, even if they grow to be saplings.
But when such simple mistakes are made, it does not help at all that the support for mangroves is not unilateral. “The mangroves are not always pretty to look at.” said one inhabitant, “Case Noyale is a touristic spot. When the tourist comes here, he wants to see the horizon with his family, but the mangroves are big trees, and it prevents them from enjoying the vista.”
Another inhabitant, Joseph, complained that during floods especially, a lot of waste got accumulated in the roots of the mangroves. The result was a dirty, littered shore which according to Joseph, could prevent tourists from visiting the region which is highly dependent on this particular sector of the economy.
Villagers from Case Noyale are not against mangroves for the sake of being against mangroves. They recognise the benefits offered by these, especially for the fishing industry since Case Noyale is also a fishing village. But faced with the short-term problems that affect their everyday life, a vocal few are starting to speak out about the issues they face. With the case for mangroves being already fragilised by at times misguided government efforts, NGOs are struggling to keep mangroves alive. The ADD (Association pour le Development Durable) reports having planted 100,000 mangrove trees over 10 hectares of coastal land. But their actions cannot lead to the expected results when people are still ill-educated about the importance of mangroves.
Even so, Mauritius cannot be said to be faring horribly. The authorities have already recognised the need for and the importance of mangroves. Misguided efforts can be corrected and awareness and afforestation programmes are in the works. Just last week, on Sunday the 21st of May, the Plaine Verte Youth Centre in collaboration with the Roches Noires Youth Centre set up an expedition for the youth where a message of awareness was spread. A project to replant mangroves was also scheduled but due to unfavourable weather conditions, it could not be carried out.