Mangrove forests hold a great potential for climate change mitigation due to the vast amount of carbon they sequester from the atmosphere for long-term storage. Researcher Loic Gillerot set out to Gazi Bay, Kenya, where a community-led carbon offsetting project is running to study a part of this remarkable carbon-storing capacity.
In the light of global warming, unfulfilling climate conferences and a rising sense of urgency, there is a need for concrete and directly applicable solutions. Many incentives are developing globally, although some can be less obvious than others. An interesting path is being tested in Kenya involving mangroves, peculiar coastal forests found in tropical and subtropical latitudes and highly specialized to grow in those places where few others can persist. To thrive in the intertidal zone which these forests have claimed, they adapted to endure frequent flooding and to grow in oxygen-poor, salty soils. These hardy trees also play a crucial role in protecting the coast against erosion, providing a habitat for marine fauna and safeguarding coastal villages by buffering heavy storms. Most interestingly, recent studies also found that they sequester more carbon than any other forest type, not only as biomass but also as large amounts of peat upon which they grow. This enormous amount of stored carbon represents an opportunity which could lead to the protection of these globally threatened forests.
An innovative project called Mikoko Pamoja, running since 2013 in Gazi Bay (Kenya), saw this potential and is now the world’s first project protecting mangroves through the sale of carbon credits. Annually, the equivalent of 3000 tonnes of carbon that would otherwise be lost due to deforestation is sold on a voluntary market. Sale incomes are spent by local communities on democratically elected projects and have already allowed to purchase new handbooks for local schools and to install a freshwater pump. The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, which coordinates the project, collaborate with numerous international institutes, including the University of Brussel (VUB) which allowed me to go to Gazi Bay personally to conduct research on the mangrove’s capacity to store carbon.
Through carbon offsetting, the amount of carbon contained in a hectare of mangrove forest can be expressed in monetary terms, which, in this case, is important for local inhabitant’s livelihoods. Therefore it is vital to make accurate estimations of the total stored carbon in this particular type of forest. The aim of our research was to identify important factors that influence the amount of carbon storage and more specifically the carbon concentration in mangrove wood. Whereas factors like forest density, species diversity, and the salt content of the soil didn’t appear to matter, substantial differences were found between the ten studied mangrove species occurring in the bay. One of the area’s most abundant species (Rhizophora mucronata) even contains varying amounts of carbon concentration between its branches, roots and stem. These differences are further magnified, or mitigated, by differences in wood density.
These results help to shed a light on factors that have to be taken into account to ameliorate the accuracy of future carbon stock assessments in Gazi Bay and in mangrove forests generally. Additionally, results can help to identify the most carbon-rich species for future tree replantation or protection by the management.
Even though Mikoko Pamoja is a young project, it already got awarded by the prestigious Equator Prize of the United Nations and is backed by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. In fact, the project can be considered a “win-win-win” situation because such community-involving projects simultaneously assure a reduction of greenhouse gasses, a protection against deforestation and positively affect local inhabitants livelihoods.
Although the industrial and private sectors should rather strive toward an immediate reduction of their emissions, carbon offsetting projects like Mikoko Pamoja present practicable solutions for global warming at a short to medium term.
Interested by Mikoko Pamoja or by offsetting you own carbon emissions? Go to http://www.mikokopamoja.com/ or http://www.planvivo.org/project-network/mikoko-pamoja-kenya/