UN issues mangrove warning

The UN Environment Programme has called for urgent action to protect the mangroves of the islands in the Pacific Ocean from climate change.

It has published a study warning that some islands could lose more than half their mangrove by the end of the 21st century. It says that American Samoa, Fiji, Tuvalu and the Federated States of Micronesia stand to be worst hit as rising sea levels engulf the coastal trees.

As well as calling for cuts to global emissions of greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol and its successors, the UNEP makes a number of specific recommendations for the islands affected.

In order to avoid losing up to 13% of these ecosystems, the islands should reduce local pollution to make the mangroves more resilient and restore wetlands that have been lost to development, the report says.

In addition, the mangroves should be allowed to expand further inland by setting back some coastal developments, UNEP says.

UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: "There are many compelling reasons for fighting climate change - the threats to mangroves in the Pacific, and by inference across other low lying parts of the tropics, underline yet another reason to act.

"Industrialised nations must meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the international emission-reduction treaty, as a first step to even deeper cuts needed to stablise the atmosphere."

Kitty Simonds, executive director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Committee, said that the mangroves must be protected because of their contribution to fish stocks. Mangroves act as nurseries for fish, filter coastal pollution, and are a source of timber, dyes, nets and fish traps for local communities.

UNEP cites studies estimating the economic value of goods and services generated by the mangroves at $900,000 per square kilometer. A Thai study put the figure at $3.5 million per square kilometer.

Gretchen Hendriks



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