Location: Ambondrolava, Madagascar
Everyone knows that plants take carbon out of the air, thus acting as natural scrubbers for the atmosphere. What fewer know is that when it comes to sequestering carbon, not all vegetation is created equal. Coastal vegetation in the form of mangroves, sea grass, and salt marsh grass beats out all other contenders, sucking up carbon much faster than terrestrial forest. In the form of “blue carbon,” this carbon can be stored in vast quantities within layers of peat going deep into the ground. Blue carbon is an exceptionally secure form of storage under most circumstances, but unfortunately these ecosystems are increasingly at risk from coastal development. Here carbon capacity becomes a double-edged sword as the carbon is dug up and flies into the atmosphere where it contributes to climate change.
Since 2007, a Belgian charity called Honko has recognized this imminent threat and has responded by working tirelessly to save the fragile mangrove ecosystems of southwestern Madagascar. Honko, named after the Malagasy word for mangrove, attacks the problem of mangrove degradation on multiple fronts, focusing in on the 120 hectares of mangrove adjacent to Tulear. This area is a hotbed of ecological diversity, hosting seven species of mangrove tree and thirty-seven species of birds. To protect the future of these species and the carbon that they store, Honko takes on the dual tasks of preservation and restoration. To preserve the mangroves, one of Honko’s major roles is to foster mangrove-friendly livelihoods for locals. Instead of livelihoods that harm mangroves, like fishing and harvesting wood or reeds, Honko helps locals get established in work like apiculture, weaving, ecotourism, and sustainable fish farming. For those jobs that are completely necessary to the local lifestyle yet rely on mangroves, Honko helps workers manage resources so that they can continue to sustain themselves in the future. Honko also works to establish community-managed mangrove reserves with the support of local management groups, such as the VOI Mamelo Honko and the local women’s association, and large international organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund. In order to manage these reserves Honko has spearheaded educational campaigns that reach out to schools and entire villages to help teach locals how to better protect and restore their greatest resource amidst the threats of modern development.
Honko’s greatest achievement has been in ensuring that the Tulear-area will be able to take autonomous responsibility for the protection of their own mangroves. To do so, they’ve co-founded the Capricorn Coastal Alliance to unite groups working on environmental causes in southwestern Madagascar. They’re also launching a blue carbon project via Plan Vivo, an organization which creates thorough frameworks for sustainable development and conservation with the aim of benefitting all involved parties. Finally, to make sure their efforts are going in the right direction now and into the future, Honko has worked with local universities and centers of research to build a base of scientific literature so that they may better understand and tend to the mangroves. With education, direction, and passion, these beautiful and beneficial ecosystems can be maintained, and can in turn continue to maintain our planet.
Environmental impact: Avoided mangrove degradation, preserved biodiversity, and avoided CO2 emissions
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