It is no longer a secret, mangrove ecosystems are extremely valuable as they serve many purposes such as protection of coastal environments, barriers to coastal erosion, homes for a very diverse range of wildlife and livelihoods for traditional and indigenous communities. Despite the difficulty of quantification, it is also proven that mangrove forests act as major carbon sinks.
Mangrove areas are decreasing
FAO’s 2007 report states that the total area of mangrove forests has decreased worldwide, from 18.8 million hectares in 1990 to 15.2 million hectares in 2005, due to the increase of human pressure along coasts.
In Thailand, mangrove deforestation rates were highest in 1970 and 1980 linked manly to the expansion of the shrimp aquaculture industry, but also other land conversions to rice, oil palm and rubber plantation as well as tourism infrastructure and coastal infrastructure development. The problem is that shrimp ponds are extremely vulnerable to disease and pollution, meaning that today many of them have been abandoned.
How is Thailand tackling the issue?
This past decade, Thailand seems to have woken up as deforestation rates have slowed down quite significantly. In fact, even though mangrove forests in Thailand still face encroachment, awareness on the importance of mangrove ecosystems and the need for restoration is rising. Initiatives from the Thai Government, corporations and Non-Governmental organizations have become more numerous.
Mangrove Action Project (MAP) is one of the NGOs involved in mangrove restoration in Thailand and acts as my host organization for this research project. The organization’s main purpose is to restore mangrove areas by involving the local communities who benefit directly from these ecosystems. MAP initiated more than 10 restoration sites in three provinces in Southern Thailand: Trang Province, Krabi Province and Phang Nga Province and hence supports livelihoods of over 10 local villages. MAP is also involved in various aspects of mangrove conservation such as education, advocacy, collaboration, conservation and restoration, as well as sustainable community-based development.
Mangrove restoration methods
Mangrove restoration projects have developed all over the world, unfortunately not all of them have been successful. The term mangrove restoration is sometimes used to describe the simple action of planting mangrove species following forest plantation models. But mangrove ecosystems are much more complex and diverse, and even though planting can be beneficial, there are many more aspects that must be taking into account.
MAP follows a method called Community-Based Environmental Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR) which is a much more holistic approach that has been successful in countries such as the US, Indonesia, India and El Salvador.
My research project ‘Mangrove restoration in Southern Thailand: challenges, opportunities and best practices’ aims to determine how CBEMR is applied in practice by analyzing the challenges and opportunities of mangrove restoration in Southern Thailand. The study will include primary and secondary data, collected from nine to twelve of Mangrove Action Project’s restoration sites.
The focus will be on the environmental and social aspects of mangrove restoration as I am fascinated by the relationship between local communities and their surrounding environment. The analysis method undertaken will be semi-quantitative and qualitative as scientific data collected for monitoring purposes will be analysed. Whereas the social aspect will follow a qualitative analysis method.
Drawing on past experiences
Let’s be honest, my past experiences in research have been fairly limited. However during a short month-and-a-half research internship at the end of my graduate degree I got a glance of what the research journey should look like.
The main lesson learnt regarded primary data collection, even though this time around I will be mostly relying on secondary data, the key words are consistency and organization. I believe these terms also apply to the whole process of research. It is important when collecting data to build a structure that is clear and precise and to follow this structure throughout the whole data collection process. Finding a method that works for you can take a long time, however once found, the data collection process and especially the analysis that follows will be much more efficient and rigorous, hence reducing the likelihood of error. And it will definitely make your life easier!
When treating data, I realized the importance of charts and graphics as visualization tools. Especially when dealing with quantitative data, there is nothing less clear than a excel data sheet covered with numbers. Graphs makes it easier to find patterns, trends and draw conclusions.
Keep your eyes out for my next blog post which will take you through my research progress!