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What are mangroves worth? There’s no easy answer

12 April 2017
Photo: Bob Fisher/IUCN

Our existence depends on flows of goods and services delivered by a stock of natural resources – our ‘natural’ capital. But as we have degraded the planet’s ecosystems, we’ve lost huge stocks of this natural capital and we are starting to feel the pinch.

People have long depended on natural systems for our survival and development, nowhere more visible than in our history of extracting minerals and fuel products. However, we have also started to see the importance of healthy ecosystems for providing essential goods and services, especially as these stocks of natural capital disappear.

In response, action is being taken to restore and protect ecosystems, including global efforts aimed at estimating the economic value of the Earth’s natural capital – in hard numbers. Knowing the economic worth of ecosystem services can help ensure that those who rely heavily on ecosystems – from governments to industries and businesses to all of us as citizens – see their value and can account for restoration and conservation in their planning and use.

Mangrove ecosystems, in particular, provide a multitude of goods and services, including: provision of food and clean water (provisioning services), influence climate regulation, soil composition regulation and disaster risk reduction (regulating services), and recreational and spiritual space (cultural services). The natural capital of mangroves thus has immense worth not only in sustaining lives and livelihoods of millions of people along the world’s coasts, but also in real economic terms.

Determining this value, however, is tricky and depends on the type of goods and services considered as well as the method of valuation. Their value is strongly context-dependent (space, time, land use, and land management) as well as scale-dependant. Here are some things to keep in mind when thinking about the value of mangroves:

1. Mangroves’ value can be reflected in the market price of what is produced

Provisional services represent tangible goods people use for multiple purposes. They are usually valuated by the market and priced according to specific markets. For instance, mangrove fisheries and forestry products are prominent mangrove resources for which market values are readily estimated. The market price includes the value of nature contribution, costs of fishing, collecting, or harvesting, as well as earnings. When goods are not bought or sold on the market (e.g. timber collected for firewood, or seafood or honey used for subsistence purposes), the value can be inferred from other market values or the cost of replacing what nature provides with a nearest substitute.

2. Mangroves’ value as incentive for the tourism sector

Mangroves offer great opportunities for wildlife viewing and other recreational activities such as fishing and diving. They also often grow in close proximity to other tourist attractions such as coral reefs and sandy beaches. Therefore revenues from tourism-related spending can provide special incentives for restoration and conservation of mangroves as pristine habitats. The current rise in tourist demand for sustainable options (ecotourism) could provide stakeholders with good opportunities for capitalising on intact and species-rich mangrove ecosystems.

3. Mangroves’ value often isn’t appreciated until they are gone

Mangroves function as a natural infrastructure for resilient coasts, especially by reducing storm surge and waves. These benefits are often felt most acutely once mangroves have disappeared – either when property owners attempt to replace these lost services with breakwaters and seawalls or when property and lives are lost because of flooding and storm damage. Both can result in large out-of-pocket costs. In fact, protecting and restoring whole mangrove ecosystems has shown to be less costly than paying for the building and maintenance of artificial storm protection.

4. Mangroves’ value is understood by the insurance sector

The role that mangroves play in protecting property is increasingly understood by the insurance industry. If insurers lower premiums to reflect the cost-savings provided by healthy mangrove forests, then insured property owners will have an incentive to protect mangroves and insurers can avoid some of the large payouts that result from cyclones and other wave events. 

5. Mangroves’ value is increasingly reflected in the carbon market

Due to their ability to sequester and store carbon, mangroves are increasingly in the focus of climate mitigation actions. Conservation projects that restore and protect mangrove forests (such as Mikoko Pamoja in Kenya) have used new methodologies to measure the carbon content in these systems and to receive payments through the accredited sale of carbon credits (unit of sequestered carbon per tonne).

There are different methods of estimating the economic value of mangrove ecosystems which may serve to demonstrate the significant potential of wealth increase with the conservation of natural mangrove capital. However, few estimates of value can adequately capture the entire value of mangrove forests. The grand total of benefits derived from mangroves is likely greater than what is reflected in the estimated values of its parts. It is ultimately up to the stakeholders and decision makers to treat these numbers as illustrative and to proceed with caution in order to make informed and ethically responsible decisions.

This article series on mangrove restoration is written by Juliet Blum and Dorothée Herr from IUCN's Global Marine and Polar Programme with the support of Germany's International Climate Initiative (IKI) through the IUCN Global Forest and Climate Change Programme. Philippe Puydarrieux (IUCN Science & Knowledge Unit) and Gerard Bos (IUCN Global Business and Biodiversity Programme) contributed to this article.

 

 

Centuries of tree taxonomy informs today’s restoration

06 April 2017
BGCI was recently part of an expedition with University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum to collect seeds of Betula chichibuensis, a Critically Endangered tree from Japan. Photo: Kirsty Shaw BGCI.

Have you ever asked yourself, “what kind of tree is this?” Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) has – 60,065 times.  BGCI just created a database called GlobalTreeSearch to help answer this question and to support global research, conservation, and botanically-based interventions including forest landscape restoration (FLR).

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), the organisation that represents the world’s botanic gardens, engaged scores of experts from botanical institutions across the world over two years, consulting more than 500 published references to assemble Global TreeSearch – the first comprehensive list of the world’s tree species and their country level distributions. 

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, the authors highlight that more than half of all tree species are limited to a single country, and many of rare species are threatened with extinction. BGCI’s main reason for publishing the online database is to provide a helpful tool for people working to conserve rare and threatened species. Currently, around 10,000 tree species are known to be threatened with extinction, largely due to deforestation and over-exploitation. This figure includes over 300 species that are Critically Endangered with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild.

The Global Tree Specialist Group of the IUCN will use GlobalTreeSearch as the basis for assessing the conservation status of all known tree species by 2020, under an initiative called the Global Tree Assessment. Informing this assessment is a major application of this online database, but is certainly not the only one. Craig Beatty of the IUCN Global Forest and Climate Change Programme (GFCCP) is excited about the applicability of this database to FLR efforts.

Seeds of the Chinese Hats Tree - Karomia gigas found only in Tanzania.Photo: Kirsty Shaw BGCI.“The design of FLR activities will be greatly improved by GlobalTreeSearch. One of the main challenges in restoration is species selection, and until this ground-breaking work by Botanic Gardens Conservation International, IUCN relied on a patchwork approach of local species preference and availability.”

Mr. Beatty assured that while the focus on local knowledge in restoration interventions will continue, it is often the case that locally available or preferred species have changed drastically over the past 30 years as landscapes have increasingly degraded. Building from this shifting situation, he continued to reflect on the utility of the database.

“GlobalTreeSearch provides us with a baseline inventory of tree species for each country we work in, and the foundational knowledge that is required to ensure that restoration planning and activity can effectively contribute to improved livelihoods and ecology through the restoration of tree species. This information will be essential as we work with countries to plan and implement their commitments to forest landscape restoration.”

Reflecting on the achievement of this new online tool, Dr. Paul Smith, BGCI’s Secretary General, explains “Although it seems extraordinary that it has taken us until 2017 to publish the first global, authoritative list of tree species, it is worth remembering that GlobalTreeSearch represents a huge scientific effort encompassing the discovery, collection and describing of tens of thousands of plant species. This is ‘big science’ involving the work of thousands of botanists over a period of centuries.”

We now know that there are 60,065 species of trees in the world, and we have a good idea of where they are. Let’s put this data to good use.

 

 

New IUCN programme to help carnivores and humans coexist across Africa

06 April 2017
Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Photo: © Andrew Harrington.

Protecting lions, cheetahs and other iconic African species by helping local communities coexist with these predators is the goal of a new 12 million euro programme, funded by the European Commission, to be managed by IUCN’s SOS - Save Our Species initiative.

The new programme aims primarily to halt the decline of lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs and Ethiopian wolves, increasingly threatened by poaching, habitat fragmentation and human encroachment on wild habitats.  Made possible by funding from the European Commission’s B4Life initiative, the SOS African Wildlife project will enable coordinated conservation work across the species’ natural habitats. A call for project proposals is now open inviting civil society organisations to apply.

Lion (Panthera leo), listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Photo: © Patrick Meier II“We are extremely grateful for the support from the European Commission,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director, IUCN’s Global Species Programme and SOS Director. “This new programme is an important step in the journey of helping people build resilience and wealth by cherishing their unique natural heritage. It will help us protect Africa’s fast-disappearing apex predators as well as their main prey species, large ecosystems and support local livelihoods.”

Despite successful conservation action in southern Africa, the lion (Panthera leo) remains listed as globally Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ due to declines in other regions across Africa. A recent study determined that just 7,100 cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) remain in the wild. Meanwhile, only 500 Endangered Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis) survive, confined to isolated mountain ranges in Ethiopia’s highlands. Leopards are also declining in most of their range.

The new programme will enable coordinated conservation action by financing a portfolio of conservation projects undertaken by civil society organisations across the continent. It will address human-wildlife conflict, which is at the root of much of the decline, by generating alternative livelihoods for local communities. It will also contribute to ensuring the long-term survival of smaller carnivores and prey species such as various antelope species by empowering civil society organisations which will work with relevant authorities and involve local communities in finding solutions to prevent their extinction.

Concrete outputs expected include increases in the populations of species targeted by each project and in critical habitat area as well as the reduction of direct threats and conflicts.

Co-Chair of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group Urs Breitenmoser says: “Conserving lions, leopards and cheetahs will help us conserve other species. Meanwhile, we will have to address a broad range of threats and conflicts and involve many parts of society in different ways depending on the species in question.”

The SOS African Wildlife programme will support anti-poaching efforts which comply with the aims of the EU Action Plan against wildlife trafficking.  This will be achieved by ensuring smaller projects funded through SOS are complementary to larger projects which will be directly supported by the European Commission to implement its strategic approach to Wildlife Conservation in Africa, "Larger than Elephants".

Claudio Sillero-Zubiri, Chair of the IUCN SSC Canid Specialist Group, says: “On the roof of Africa a few hundred Ethiopian wolves - Africa’s rarest and most threatened carnivore species - survive against the odds in tiny mountain enclaves. In contrast, wild dogs require vast areas across Sub-Saharan Africa to eke out a living.

“The destiny of these iconic carnivores inevitably depends on diminishing prey populations, the advance of the agriculture frontier and our ability to protect them from resulting conflicts. SOS African Wildlife offers a great opportunity to empower and support dedicated organisations and individuals across Africa to protect these threatened carnivores and the habitats they represent.”

Leopard (Panthera pardus), listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Photo: © Patrick Meier IIThe new programme builds on the experience and results of the first five-year phase of IUCN’s SOS - Save Our Species in which over 100 grants were awarded to support the conservation of 250 threatened species worldwide since 2010. It also complements IUCN’s Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme funded by the German government, initiated in 2014, as well as the recently announced SOS Lemurs initiative. These first five years of conservation action under SOS achieved important results in the protection of numerous threatened species.

Dr. Roberto Ridolfi, Director, "Sustainable Growth and Development" at the European Commission Directorate for International Cooperation and Development, says: "The role and importance of large carnivores are recognised as being of critical significance for the protection of fragile equilibriums of entire ecosystems. Yet, increasing pressures on land and water resources are leading to conflicts between man and animals and eventually the irreversible degradation of whole landscapes. The involvement of local communities as forefront actors in the conservation of threatened carnivore species is of crucial importance and has proven to be a long underestimated key to success when it comes to sustainability and efficiency."

"The European Commission is proud to support the SOS - Save Our Species initiative because of its coherence with the EU's Biodiversity for Life strategic approach which combines coherence, coordination and cross-sector partnerships to tackle the challenges related to the protection of biodiversity and the building of sustainable livelihoods."  

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Bianca Vergnaud, IUCN Media Relations, tel.: +32 2 739 1001, Bianca.Vergnaud@iucn.org

Simon Bradley, SOS - Save Our Species Media Relations, tel.: +41 22 999 0372, Simon.Bradley@iucn.org 

 

 

IUCN World Heritage report stresses urgency of protecting the Arctic from ships and oil as ice melts

04 April 2017
The Arctic provides critical habitat for threatened species such as polar bears. Photo: © Ralph Lee Hopkins, National Geographic Creative

Monaco, 4 April 2017 (IUCN) – The Arctic Ocean urgently needs protection as melting sea ice is opening up previously inaccessible areas to activities such as shipping, bottom trawl fishing and oil exploration, according to a scientific report launched today by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in partnership with the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre. 

The report identifies seven globally significant marine sites in the Arctic Ocean that warrant protection and could potentially qualify for World Heritage status.  

The Beluga whale, classed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.Photo: © Brian J Skerry National Geographic Creative“The Arctic Ocean plays a crucial role in shaping global climate and hosts a diverse range of species, many of them threatened,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “The World Heritage Convention has great potential to increase global recognition and protection of the region’s most exceptional habitats.”

The Arctic Ocean stretches across the northernmost side of the planet, spanning 14 million square kilometres. Its icy waters are home to wildlife found nowhere else on the planet, including bowhead whales, narwhals and walruses. As one of the most pristine oceans on Earth, it provides critical habitat for threatened species, such as polar bears and Atlantic puffins, both assessed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

However, climate change is posing a serious threat to the Arctic region, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Rapidly melting sea ice is opening up previously inaccessible areas to potential new shipping routes, oil and gas development and industrial fishing. These changes increase the urgency of improving our understanding and effective conservation of the Arctic’s globally unique marine ecosystems.

“Our Arctic Ocean conservation efforts are not keeping pace with the loss of ice and encroaching economic development, and this is putting our shared heritage in jeopardy,” says Lisa Speer of NRDC. “We need to protect the region’s most important ecological hotspots from industrial fishing, offshore oil and gas development and other damaging human activity to give the region’s globally unique wildlife the best possible chance of survival.”

Mabel Island in the Arctic. Photo: © Vladimir Melnik, Open Arctic Archipelago ProjecThe sites identified in the report that could potentially qualify for World Heritage status include: the Remnant Multi-Year Sea Ice and  Northeast Water Polynya Ecoregion, which boasts the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic and may give polar bears the greatest chance of survival through the 21st century; the Bering Strait Ecoregion, one of the world’s great migration corridors for millions of seabirds and marine mammals; the Northern Baffin Bay Ecoregion, which supports the largest aggregation of a single species of seabird, the little auk; the Scoresby Sound Polynya Ecoregion, the world’s largest fjord system which supports the Critically Endangered Spitsbergen stock of bowhead whale; the High Arctic Archipelagos, which support 85% of the world’s population of ivory gulls; Disko Bay and Store Hellefiskebanke Ecoregion, a critical winter habitat for the West Greenland walrus and hundreds of thousands of king eiders; and the Great Siberian Polynya, where the seasonal formation and melting of ice influences oceanic processes on a large scale. 

“The Arctic Ocean’s beauty and bounty are unparalleled,” says Mechtild Rössler, Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre. “From the sea life superhighway of the Bering Strait to the breathtaking fjords of Scoresby Sound, this region is unlike any other on the planet. This new report highlights seven possible treasures in the Arctic Ocean that need conservation efforts to keep pace with climate change.”

The Pacific walrus, classed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Photo: © Maksim Antipin, Beringia National ParkCurrently, there are five World Heritage sites within the Arctic Circle, only one of which is listed for its marine values – Russia’s Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve. Inscribed in 2004, it boasts the world’s largest population of Pacific walrus, with up to 100,000 animals congregating in the island’s rookeries, and the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens. Research suggests that some humpback whales from the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino in Mexico migrate all the way to the waters around Wrangel Island for summer feeding, highlighting the connections between the Arctic Ocean and World Heritage sites in lower latitudes.

Launched today in Monaco, “Natural Marine World Heritage in the Arctic Ocean: Report of an expert workshop and review process” was produced with support from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and WWF-Canada.

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Goska Bonnaveira, IUCN Media Relations, mobile: +41 79 276 0185, goska.bonnaveira@iucn.org 

 

 

Turning the tide for devil rays

30 March 2017
Manta ray. Photo: IUCN Photo Library / © Jean-Louis Ferretti.

Manta rays are graceful, iconic marine animals sought out by scuba divers around the globe. Far less well-recognised are the devil rays, a group of nine species that are closely related to manta rays and are indistinguishable to all except experts. While the popularity and name recognition of manta rays with tourists has led to heightened interest in conserving them, devil rays are getting far less attention, increasing the risk of further population declines – write Julia M Lawson and Nicholas K Dulvy of IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Shark Specialist Group (SSG).

Both devil and manta rays are threatened by the international trade in their gill plates. The rays are filter feeders, using their cartilaginous gill plate filaments to ‘sieve’ a living – filtering plankton and small fishes from the sunlit surface waters. Gill plates are in high demand in southern China and in Chinatowns around the world, fetching up to $400 per kilogramme at the final point of sale. The trade favours the large gill plates of the two manta ray species and the three largest devil ray species, but gill plates from smaller species and juveniles have also been seen in markets.

The gill plates are marketed under the trade name Peng Yu Si, and are the key ingredient in a tonic that is purported to prevent sickness by boosting the immune system and enhancing blood circulation. Evidence of its health benefits is lacking, however. Its use in Traditional Chinese Medicine began relatively recently – in the 1970s – and has increased over the past decade.  

The demand for devil and manta ray gill plates has fuelled existing and emerging fisheries targeting these species, which are also taken as by-catch. Devil and manta rays live in shallow tropical and subtropical surface waters, which exposes them to a variety of fishing gears. These species cannot sustain even moderate levels of fishing due to their large body size, long gestation periods and low reproductive rates, which heightens their vulnerability.

The Global Devil and Manta Ray Conservation Strategy, released by a group of devil and manta ray experts convened by the IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group, outlines the goals, objectives, and actions to guide the priorities of conservation groups, scientists, and countries. These include addressing existing policy gaps, fisheries and trade management, as well as encouraging community engagement to better conserve both devil and manta rays.

Mobula mobular (Giant Devil Ray). Photo: Fabrizio Serena.The conservation strategy flags the ‘charisma gap’ – or the fact that devil rays are not as well known to the general public as mantas –  as a significant barrier to equal conservation. For example, following the listing of both species of manta rays as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List in 2011, these species were moved to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – meaning that all Parties to the agreement must demonstrate that animals are sourced from legal and sustainable fishing operations. Most of the nine species of devil rays are listed as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, or Endangered on the IUCN Red List. However, devil rays were not listed on Appendix II of CITES until 2016.

Though regulating international trade is important, other challenges need distinct solutions and highlight the need for conservation and regulatory actions that take devil rays into account. For example, one massive challenge is incidental capture in tuna purse seine nets – wide fishing nets that close around a school of fish, with the net cinching together like a drawstring. Tuna often swim with devil and manta rays, and fishers will set nets around a large group of rays to capture the tuna hidden beneath. The edge of the net can be dipped to allow dolphins and whale sharks to escape, but unfortunately, the rays dive to the bottom of the net and consequently get hauled on board.

Devil and manta rays are so large that it can be extremely difficult to lift them back into the water. They are commonly winched back into the sea slung from a hook inserted into their gills or by a hole punched into their wing. Unfortunately, it seems they are very unlikely to survive such rough handling due to their physiology. Proper handling by fishers is key to their continued survival. Safe release is now required for Eastern Tropical Pacific tuna fisheries, following a 2015 resolution by the Inter-American Topical Tuna Commission (IATTC). Guidelines on how to effectively handle and release small and large devil and manta rays have been developed for tuna purse seine vessels by Poisson and colleagues.

Continued coordinated action, informed by the Global Conservation Strategy for Devil and Manta Rays, should help close the ‘charisma gap’ between devil and manta rays, and ensure that these gentle giants are admired and conserved for generations to come.

 

 

Vulture Rescue Centre in Bangladesh: Rehabilitated Himalayan Griffon vultures released back to the wild

28 March 2017
Vulture being released. Photo: © Sakib Ahmad/IUCN

IUCN Bangladesh with the support of Bangladesh Forest Department established the country’s first-ever Vulture Rescue Centre in November 2016. The centre has successfully rescued and rehabilitated eight Himalayan Griffons and released the vultures back to the wild on 6 March 2017.

Vultures inside the Rescue Centre. Photo: © Sakib Ahmad/IUCN.After months of treatment and care, eight Himalayan Griffon vultures were released back into the wild by IUCN Bangladesh and Bangladesh Forest Department. The vultures were cared for in the temporary Vulture Rescue Centre that was established in the Singra National Park, which is in the Dinajpur District in northern Bangladesh. A small awareness program was also organised to mark this event, which was attended by over 200 local participants, consisting of mostly indigenous communities. The guests of the program were the country representatives from IUCN Bangladesh, Mr Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad, Mr Abdul Awal, Divisional Forest Officer and Principal Investigator of the Community Based Vulture Conservation Project, A.B.M. Sarowar Alam.

Awareness program on Vulture in Singra,Dinajpur. Photo: © Sakib Ahmad/IUCN.Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad put emphasis on the importance of vultures in the ecosystem and the need for awareness amongst the local community. “Vultures are an integral part of the ecosystem and they are interlinked with all other components that make up the ecosystem”, said Mr Ahmad. Mr.Alam said, “The rescue centre looks to help injured or weak vultures by providing necessary treatment so that they can return back to nature”. Mr Awal reiterated that Forest Department will continue to support the Vulture Rescue Centre with the help of local communities.

Vulture Rescue centre at Singra National Park, Dinajpur. Photo: © Sakib Ahmad/IUCN. Every year, during their migration period, Himalayan Griffon vultures that are too weak or injured are rescued in the Northern parts of Bangladesh. A total of 40 vultures were rescued from different parts of the country during the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 migration periods. The Community Based Vulture Conservation Project has established the temporary rescue centre with the collaboration of the Bangladesh Forest Department. This year, 16 vultures were rescued, out of which 8 were released with immediate treatment. The rest were kept in the rescue centre. The centre rescues and rehabilitates the vultures and after attaching specialised numbered rings releases them when they are fit to fly again.

As there are a number of Himalayan Griffon's rescues every year, it is imperative that the rescue centre continues to function. IUCN Bangladesh along with Bangladesh Forest looks to continue this initiative for over the years for the conservation of these vultures.  In the future, this will also give a chance to enrich knowledge and facilitate research by attaching satellite transmitters on the rescued vultures before release. This will help in understanding their migration and ecology and assist in the long-term conservation of this species.

 

 

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