Meet the man saving the mangroves - and the planet
Mangroves are among the most important ecosystems on our planet. They anchor shore lines and buffer coastal ecosystems against hurricanes and tsunamis. They are a critical habitat for endangered species, protect coral reefs from sedimentation, and serve as nurseries and food sources for marine life. Moreover, they sequester massive amounts of carbon - potentially as much as five times more than other tropical forests.
They’re also under threat, and a large majority of mangrove loss is due to human development. To learn more about these critical ecosystems, we spoke to Maksudur Rahman, a conservation leader partnering with local communities to protect and restore the Sundarbans mangrove forests of Bangladesh. Together with his organization BEDS, Maksudur has planted more than 300,000 trees in the region and improved the living conditions for thousands of local families.
Maksudur, why is protecting the mangroves so important?
Maksudur: Mangroves have a lot of ecological and economic benefits in terms of climate change adaptation. Their carbon storage is very high compared with other sorts of trees, as is their absorption of water. Mangroves are a good tool to protect countries from cyclones, hurricanes and also floods. So they are very important for these purposes. If there were no mangroves, our coastal regions would be washed out. Mangroves are always protecting us.
Another aspect is the economic benefit. People get a lot of economic benefits from the mangroves, like the money for fish, honey and other non-timber forest products. And there’s also the matter of biodiversity. Mangroves are a good place for wildlife. There are a lot of critically endangered and endangered species living in the mangrove forests. A lot of symbolic species, like the tiger for instance.
Sounds like the mangroves are real multitaskers. Tell us more about the work you’re doing to protect them.
Maksudur: We are working at the grassroot level in Bangladesh, in the Sundarbans which is the world's single largest mangrove forest. Local people depend on these resources, so together with them we are working out how to conserve this mangrove ecosystem.
Before we started this work, we saw the local people collecting resources like honey, crab, fish, and so on, but they didn’t consider the conservation activities. We felt it was very important to involve the local people because they are the key actors. So we started our activities with them in 2013. We also try to solve their different kinds of social problems, for example, access to clean drinking water, providing them with electricity through solar energy, and mangrove-based livelihoods under green housing, green education, and green business promotional work.
What kind of activities do you use to engage the local people?
Maksudur: First, we considered the education program. So we developed different kinds of educational tools like books and action-oriented games. We introduced these materials among the students, teachers and local people. Together we realize the mangrove ecosystem is very important for our life and also our environment. We will all benefit when the mangrove ecosystem is conserved.
The local people don’t consider the ecosystem; they are considering the economy because they are very poor. So we had to work out a way to connect the ecosystem and the economy. For example, some mangroves grow fruit and the local people make a pickle from this fruit. But they don’t sell it to the national market. We helped them create a brand and we are trying to develop the value chain of this product and promote it. They also sell honey to a middleman and so don’t get the benefit, the benefit goes to the middleman. So we developed the brand and helped them to get a better price. So they became interested, they realized the mangrove is very important for them. These are just a couple of examples, they have lots of products and we are always brainstorming what new products we can make without harming the ecosystem.
Would you say their attitudes have shifted since you started working with them?
Maksudur: Yes. Before doing this kind of work, we consider how they can benefit financially. We try to explain the issues to them and show some of the activities we have already done and how others are gaining from them. So we get them onboard in this way.
Another activity is integrated mangrove aquaculture activities, which is a good model for farmers. Because if the farmers keep the mangroves in their farm, they will get a lot of benefits. Like they no longer need to provide extra food for their fisheries. So we’ve developed a model consisting of 20 farms. Nowadays we are motivating many farmers and they are showing their interest in these integrated mangrove aquaculture activities.
Why is it that some mangrove conservation projects fail?
Maksudur: You have to do work before the planting, and sometimes people don’t consider this. Sometimes they just go directly to the field and do the plantation activities. This is not a good way, and these mangroves plantation activities may not sustain.
Before planting the mangroves, you have to do some feasibility activities and baseline surveys in that region to determine if the area is suitable for mangroves or not. And you need to ask the people if there have previously been mangroves there or not and, if there were, get an idea for the kinds of mangroves that were once there. Species selection is very important as mangroves are very sensitive. The quality of the saplings and monitoring activities are also essential.
Then you go back to involve the local people. They need to be interested for this to sustain. And you have to consider local government and administration because they need to be involved at this time too. So step by step, you have all these things to consider.
In our case, there is another issue. In the Sundarbans there is a lot of biodiversity and the human-tiger conflict is one issue. When you have planted the mangroves, local people sometimes worry that if there is a forest, a tiger may come to that territory. So you have to consider good fencing in the area so a tiger will not come to that area. Otherwise they will destroy the mangroves.
What’s your ambition for the coming years?
Maksudur: We would love to involve more people with conservation activities. We are always trying our best to do something for our community, our nature. My thinking is that there are a lot of organizations doing this kind of work, so this is the time for collaboration. There is a big gap between many conservation organizations; they are doing their work and we are doing our work but our goal is the same. But if your organization's direction is not the same, we have to come together and work together to protect our nature.
Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS) is a unique organization that exists to help save the endangered coastal region and to develop an atmosphere of cooperation and partnership among stakeholders with different perspectives. The organization was established in 2010. BEDS is a non-profit, non-government, research and implementation organization and registered by NGO Affairs Bureau, Prime Minister Office and Department of Social Services, Government of Bangladesh. The Vision of the organization is to preserve the local ecological balance and to improve socio-economic conditions for the poor.
Purchases of the Lite Air Mask in Earth Tone support Maksudur Rahman to protect and restore the Sundarbans mangrove forests of Bangladesh.