Planting for the future

Hadeer Elhadary, Monday 17 Jun 2024

How a community project is restoring mangrove forests in Egypt and helping to combat climate change

Planting for the future


In recent years, the impacts of climate change have become increasingly evident and severe, posing a significant threat to human life and well-being.

Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and rising sea levels are just a few of the many consequences of climate change, and they are not only causing widespread damage to property and infrastructure but also disrupting ecosystems, displacing communities, and exacerbating existing social and economic inequalities.

The risks associated with climate change are expected to increase if we fail to take urgent action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and invest in nature-based solutions to build climate-resilient infrastructure.

One nature-based community project in Egypt is helping to fight climate change by planting mangroves on the Red Sea coast. These unique ecosystems, thriving at the interface of land and sea, act as nature’s defence system. Their tangled roots hold the soil in place, safeguarding coastlines from erosion, providing protection from storms, and acting as a living barrier against surging waves.

The Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration Model (MERS) project is being implemented by the Centre of Applied Research on the Environment and Sustainability (CARES) at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and is funded by the HSBC bank through the Climate Solutions Partnership, a five-year philanthropic collaboration to scale climate solutions by combining HSBC’s financial expertise with the knowledge and experience of the World Resources Institute (WRI), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and a network of local partners.

It is backed by $100 million of philanthropic funding from HSBC between 2020 and 2025 and is divided into three workstreams, each critical to increasing progress towards a pathway to a net-zero future. The three sectors that the Partnership supports are Energy Transition in Asia, Nature-Based Solutions, and Business Innovation.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the restoration and protection of mangroves can also help to combat climate change through carbon sequestration. Mangroves are carbon-rich ecosystems and can hold an average of 1,000 tons of carbon per hectare in their biomass and soils.

“MERS is a nature-based solution to climate change, and the project aims to adopt a nature-based solution to address the challenges of climate change and enhance the environmental, social, and economic resilience of the most vulnerable local communities by restoring and rehabilitating the mangrove ecosystem in Egypt,” said Yasmine Abdel-Maqsoud, senior technical manager and the Cares-MERS project manager.

Mangrove ecosystems are precious as they are one of Earth’s most productive and biologically diverse wetland systems. They guard the coasts against storms and protect coastal areas from erosion from sea tides and storms. Abdel-Maqsoud also noted that mangrove ecosystems act as a nursery for fish and other species essential to the livelihoods of coastal residents and people that depend on blue water food.

A paper released by the MERS project in May and published in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology analysed the mangrove distribution along the Egyptian Red Sea coast and found an increase in mangrove area of 4.5 hectares (two per cent annual growth) from 2003 to 2022.

However, it also revealed a decrease in mangrove cover by 24 per cent in southern areas, particularly around Halayeb, likely due to environmental and human development pressures.

According to the Global Mangrove Alliance, an umbrella organisation launched in 2018, of the 11,700 km2 of mangroves lost since 1996, approximately 8,183 km2 are considered restorable. But it has asked that long-term secure protection is increased from 40 per cent to 80 per cent of the world’s remaining mangroves, as 42 per cent are currently in protected areas.

It is urgent to secure a further 61,000 km2 under conservation measures.

According to the Global Mangrove Watch, an online platform providing remote sensing data and tools for monitoring mangroves worldwide, the extent of the world’s mangroves decreased by 5,245.24 km2 between 1996 and 2020. The US National Centre for Biotechnology Information has said that global mangrove loss is attributed primarily to human activity.

Anthropogenic loss hotspots across Southeast Asia and around the world have characterised mangrove ecosystems as highly threatened, though natural processes such as erosion can also play a significant role in their vulnerability. Some 62 per cent of global losses of mangroves between 2000 and 2016 resulted from landā€use change, primarily through conversion to aquaculture and agriculture.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that from 1980 to 2005, between 20 and 35 per cent of the world’s mangrove forests were lost, which is why restoring them has become more and more necessary across the world.