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balancing evelopment and coastal conservation: mangroves in Mozambique

Despite their well-researched and widely recognised socioeconomic and ecological 
value, mangroves are among the world’s most threatened vegetation types. More than 
a fifth of the world’s mangroves have been lost over the past 30 years alone, and many 
of the remaining forests are degraded. The depletion of mangroves in many developing 
countries in particular is a cause for serious environmental and economic concern. This 
stems from the fact that mangroves play a vital role in moderating monsoonal tidal floods as well as other forms of coastal protection. Mangroves support numerous forms of fauna and flora, as well as estuarine and near-shore fisheries. They also sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide, which helps to mitigate climate change. Consequently, the continuing degradation and depletion of this vital resource will reduce not only terrestrial and aquatic production and wildlife habitats, but also the stability of coastal forests, thus threatening the livelihoods of people who depend on their ecosystem services and functions.

The value of nature’s ‘services’ and its non-market benefits need to be better understood, and incorporated into countries’ development choices. The total economic value associated with the more sustainable management of ecosystems is often higher than the value associated with its conversion into farming, mining, logging, or other intensive and unsustaibale practices.This quantification is important for establishing the ‘true’ value of a mangrove forest, and therefore for enticing investment back into conservation. These decisions are particularly pertinent to Africa, where numerous countries are poised to acquire significant new wealth from oil, coal and gas deposits, with potentially devastating consequences for the physical environment.

It is therefore particularly important for resource-rich African countries to start utilising the ecosystem services approach to their natural resources, thus providing them with an instrument for balancing economic growth, social development needs and environmental protection. They need to examine the intersection of these sectors and take account of exacerbating factors such as climate change, population growth, and a subsequent increase in resource needs. The ecosystem services approach provides policymakers and planners with a framework for the integrated and sustainable management of land, water and living resources.