by Elizabeth Bennett

Mangrove forests form an integral part of coastal ecosystems and play a key role in climate change mitigation. Growing in tropical and sub-tropical tidal areas, such as estuaries and marine shorelines, their roots extend deep into the coastal sediment. They serve as effective natural barriers to rising sea levels and flooding, bearing the brunt of storm surges and preventing excessive sedimentation. According to Corcoran, Ravilious and Skuja (2007), mangroves also serve as major carbon sinks, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere together with other greenhouse gases.

In his recent blog post ‘Sierra Leone’s Wetlands: A Need for Urgent Action’, Professor Arnold Okoni-Williams (University of Sierra Leone), made five key assertions about mangrove deforestation in Freetown:

– The clearing of mangrove forests, mainly for housing, agriculture and fuelwood, is common in many of Freetown’s densely populated coastal zones.

– The depositing of untreated sewage, refuse and industrial waste coupled with widespread land reclamation and deforestation-related sediment runoffs from the hillsides, is devastating the integrity of the coastal ecology.

– Communities that are directly affected, including Susan’s Bay in Central Freetown, are increasingly experiencing adverse environmental conditions, especially flooding during the rains and dwindling water supplies.

– One of the key challenges to coastal wetlands conservation is the high level of poverty and illiteracy among the population. These factors influence the degree to which the average citizen would comprehend and respond to basic environmental awareness.

– The solution to coastal zone management and the protection of wetlands requires a long-term commitment, and a concerted inter-agency effort to establish practical mechanisms for sustainable coastal wetlands management.

As Okoni-Williams highlights, establishing climate change mitigation and adaptation measures requires multi-sectoral cooperation and community involvement. Long-lasting solutions require long-lasting relationships between organizations and the people they serve. By looking at mangrove restoration projects in Thailand, Vietnam, and India might there be some lessons for Sierra Leone’s conservation efforts?


In Thailand’s Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, Chaing Mai, mangrove restoration has been carried out using the ‘Framework Method’, characterized by the planting and cultivation of indigenous mangrove species, with the aim of restoring biodiversity and ecological health. The project is underscored by community engagement allowing ‘the villagers to collaborate closely in all aspects of the experiments, including growing saplings in their own community nursery, as well as planting, maintaining, and monitoring the plots […] While the village achieves its goals of restoring degraded forest land, FORRU [Forest Restoration Research Unit] benefits by using the project as a research and education centre, in particular to monitor and display the framework species method of forest restoration,’ (PATT Foundation, n.d.).

In coastal Vietnam, there are different case studies demonstrating various degrees of success in restoring mangroves as a mitigation measure against climate change and natural disasters. A project’s potential for success or failure hinges upon how a restoration project is situated in the forest’s human context. In order for restoration projects to be sustainable, there must be means by which local people can interact with the mangroves in a way that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.

Unlike the Thai example above, in Northern Vietnam, restored mangrove systems are completely off-limits to local people. This has created conflicts between the government and locals increasing tension over a loss of livelihoods and precluding the possibility of future engagement: ‘Lessons from a European Union mangrove restoration research site […] suggest that effective community engagement is becoming increasingly difficult to implement. For a number of stakeholders, the program does not adequately compensate for reduced access to crabs and clams. This has led to a general disenchantment within the community and an increase in the incidence of illegal cutting of mangroves,’ (Powell, Osbeck, and Tan Sinh, 2013).

In Southern Vietnam, by contrast, the mangrove restoration projects are more open to local communities, encouraging a symbiosis of sorts between local people and mangroves systems. ‘Coupled with the mangrove restoration and rehabilitation is a development component which has issued forest land leases to nearly 8000 households. The development component includes capacity building and training, construction of schools and health clinics, and infrastructural development such as roads and electricity […] In contrast to stand-alone measures such as dikes, mangrove restoration and rehabilitation has [fostered] “win-win” situations by addressing present multi-sectoral vulnerabilities and future risks,’ (Powell, Osbeck, and Tan Sinh, 2013).

In Andhra Pradesh, in eastern India, mangrove restoration projects aim to restore the coastal ecology while providing food and sustainable livelihoods to local people. By digging canals to direct the flow of water through mangrove forests, villagers support the growth of mangrove trees and contribute to the restoration of the geography and hydrology of the coastal ecosystem.

According to the Global Restoration Network, the organization facilitating the mangrove restoration, ‘Even though as an initial investment the cost appears high, the ecological and socio-economic benefits to the local community will be rewarding in the long run. This is evident from the fact that due to the established water regime, the population of edible crabs has increased in the restored areas, which is a livelihood benefit to the local communities. There is a good growth of fodder grass which has helped the local community in feeding their livestock.’ (Ramasubramanian and Ravishankar, 2004)

Each case study highlights the importance of inter-sectoral cooperation and understanding. By engaging local communities and avoiding top-down implementation schemes, governmental and non-governmental stakeholders as well as grassroots organizations, can produce sustainable environmental and socio-economic outcomes from mangrove restoration projects. The case studies demonstrate that effective, collaborative solutions are attainable for developing nations like Sierra Leone.

Links to Case Studies