Scientific stopovers on the coastline of the Indian Ocean 2/4 - Valuable and exceptional ecosystems

School of fish in Acropora branchus coral reef ©IRD - Jean-Michel Boré

In Kenya, a science project wants to project the mangrove.

Read the introduction of the journey.

Warm waters of the western Indian Ocean envelop many countries and islands. These long coasts are home to rich ecosystems, adapted to local climate conditions. Deltas, mangroves and coral reefs are just a few examples of these unique and very sensitive environments on which the livelihoods of thousands of inhabitants depend

Precious resources for nature

Coastal ecosystems of the Indian Ocean provide numerous services to the environment. Fish and crustaceans, for example, choose protected environments such as deltas, mangroves and coral reefs to breed in peace. They are real aquatic nurseries.

Mangroves and coral reefs, along with the crustaceans and planktons that inhabit them, also store large amounts of carbon pumped from the atmosphere. Experts estimate that mangroves store on average five times and up to ten times more carbon per km² than tropical terrestrial forests.

Environment and populations

Lastly, these ecosystems act as a natural barrier against extreme climatic events. They mitigate the devastating effects of tsunamis or cyclones on the coasts and protect them against the relentless erosion of waves.

Thanks to specific environmental and climatic conditions, these ecosystems play a crucial role in protecting the local environment and constitute essential sources of income for coastal populations.

Fishing reserves

Coral reefs are indeed crucial for artisanal and commercial fishermen in the region, 1 km² of coral being able to produce up to 15 tonnes of fish yearly. Mangrove forests are also an important fishing reserve, providing large quantities of fish, crustaceans and molluscs.

Well-managed mangrove forests can sustainably provide fuel and construction wood to coastal populations. Many species living in coral reefs also produce complex chemical compounds that allow them to survive in these highly competitive habitats. Some of these compounds could be used in the production of essential drugs.

Touristic resources

Last but not least, communities depend on coastal ecosystems for their tourism potential. Boat trips in mangroves or around coral reefs, bird and marine mammal observation, scuba diving or snorkelling are some of the ways to foster the local environment conservation and to generate significant tourism income.

Mangrove on the Kenyan coast

A first stop in the province of Lamu, in Kenya, shows that IRD researchers appreciate the great potential of the region's coastlines. The Institute is leading an ambitious mangrove protection and conservation project around Lamu, in partnership with the Kenya Forest Service and CIRAD. In the area, communities directly depend on mangrove forests for their livelihood.

David Williamson, IRD researcher and co-leader of the project said: “The local populations, which mainly use mangrove wood for construction and heating, are the first to be affected by forest loss. We work together, and in particular with associations and local leaders, to preserve this precious ecosystem.”

Capacity building

This participatory project allows them to make their voices and constraints heard and to participate in the development of solutions to protect the mangroves.

Capacity building is at the heart of the project, in particular for the Kenya Forest Service officers, who manage these forests on a daily basis. A collaborative platform will also allow anyone to engage in the project.

Citizen science

It will include a set of information such as the flora and fauna sheltered by the mangroves, fishing techniques and the plant use possibilities. Contributors will be able to participate in monitoring the state of mangrove forests along the coast, by posting pictures and comments.

All coastal environments such as mangrove forests must be closely monitored in order to understand their evolution under human and natural pressures and to develop sustainable solutions to preserve them.

Go to the next stop of the journey.

This paper has first been published by IRD.

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