Protecting Mangroves Protects Life, Culture, and Food Sovereignty

Mangrove ecosystems provide essential benefits and services for food security, maintaining fisheries and forest products, and protecting against storms, tsunamis, and rising sea levels, to preventing coastal erosion, regulating coastal water quality, and the provision of habitats for endangered marine species.

Yet, mangroves are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth, according to UNESCO. In 2017, Unesco reported there had been a 67% loss of mangroves and that in the next 100 years the unprotected mangroves could disappear. 

Image credit Andrea Amato

On July 26, 2016, the first commemoration of the International Day for the Defense of the Mangrove Ecosystem by UNESCO was sealed. This celebration was approved and proclaimed on November 6, 2015, by the Unesco General Conference, who extolled the importance of mangroves as “a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem that, by virtue of its existence, biomass and productivity, provides important benefits to human beings, providing goods and services to forestry and fisheries, contributing to the protection of the coastline and being particularly important in terms of mitigating the effects of climate change and food security for local communities“. 

According to Unesco (2017), “the stakes are high, as mangrove ecosystems provide essential benefits and services for life. From providing food security, maintaining fisheries and forest products, and protecting against storms, tsunamis, and rising sea levels to preventing coastal erosion, regulating coastal water quality and the provision of habitats for endangered marine species.” 

The Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina – CORALINA (Colombia), within the framework of this celebration, carried out a cleaning day at Old Point Regional Mangrove Park, located on the island of San Andrés. According to data from the Corporation, San Andrés has 148.31 ha of mangrove swamp, while Providencia and Santa Catalina have an area of 59.79 ha. The four species of mangrove that we can find in the Archipelago are: Rhizophora mangle (Red Mangrove or Red Mangrove), Avicennia germinans (Black Mangrove or Black Mangrove), Laguncularia racemosa (White Mangrove or White Mangrove) and Conocarpus erectus (Button Mangle or Botton Wood Mangrove). 

Image credit Marcela Ampudia Sjogreen

The CORALINA Providencia group, coordinated by Asilvina Pomare, reports that year after year the Corporation carries out monitoring of the mangroves of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, as well as carrying out cleaning days. On the other hand, Pomare reports that in Providencia and Santa Catalina most of the mangroves are in a good state of conservation. However, there are impacts associated with human settlements near this ecosystem.  

Pomare, in addition to reaffirming that mangroves are a natural barrier against the adverse effects of multiple climatic phenomena, affirms that mangroves are a nursery par excellence for the protection of marine and terrestrial species, which greatly contribute to food security of the Raizal community. However, Pomare also informs us that logging and the inadequate disposal of solid waste are two negative impacts that require our attention. 

On the other hand, Santiago Taylor, lifelong fisherman, founder and vice president of the Fish and Farm Cooperative, expresses that, although fishermen are not very aware of the many benefits of mangroves, the community has always taken advantage of this strategic ecosystem. In addition to their ancestral logging for the production of charcoal and wood for the construction of houses, the red mangrove areas are used to protect their fishing boats, and the capture of sprats (Sprattus sprattus) for use as bait or lure in fishing handcrafted.  

Image credit Marcela Ampudia Sjogreen

Santiago also tells us that when he was little, he and his friends, as a side effect of their childhood games, planted many red mangroves in the Joins Point sector. When taking the seeds of the red mangrove, which resembles a pencil (according to various bibliographic sources), they took the seeds like darts and threw them indiscriminately everywhere. Thanks to this innocent action, Santiago affirms that in the Joins Point sector, it is possible to see many more mangrove trees than before. 

Likewise, Santiago tells us how important the mangrove was for the protection of his house and his family, during the passage of Hurricane Beta in 2005 through Providencia. “Of all the houses in the sector, I believed that mine was the weakest and knew that it was not prepared for a hurricane. At about 9:00 pm we start to feel the breeze. The mamoncillo tree fell across the front of the house without affecting it. I heard the house creaking and I thought it would all go to the ground, but then I heard the roof from my brother’s house falling, which is right here (on the hillside). Around 3:00 am, we felt the storm dissipating and, without telling you lies, not a single sheet of the roof of my house came off. Sure, the water got in, but the house stood and housed my entire family after the storm. Thank God and the mangrove”.  

The mangrove is very important for fishermen,” Santiago tells us. “It is the natural habitat of many species, you can go to the mangrove and find red snapper, whelks (a type of marine snail, whelks), oysters, as for the sea. But you can also find birds, snakes and a great diversity of animals there. 

Image credit Andrea Amato

At an international and regional level, it is evident how important mangroves are. But we have to do much more than mangrove cleaning days. The awareness of the coastal communities, the proper management, and disposal of solid and liquid waste, reforestation, research, and monitoring programs are crucial to continuing to enjoy the many benefits that the great mangrove ecosystem offers us.  

So, for now, we can only ask youlet’s protect the mangrove ecosystemthe mangrove, associated species and humanity will thank you.  


Slow Food protects the biodiversity of the marine-coastal ecosystems of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve in the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina in Colombia through the projects Slow Fish Caribe” funded by the EU and “Empowering Indigenous Youthfinanced by IFAD. 


Author: Marcela Ampudia Sjogreen Fi wi Old Providence & Ketlina Good Food Slow Food Community (Colombia) 

Photos: Marcela Ampudia Sjogreen