Prof Wangari Maathai and her gift to the neglected forests – the mangroves
Dr James G. Kairo
WIOMSA RESEARCH FELLOW
It is not an every day affair to rub shoulders with Nobel Peace Prize laureates. But this day, in August 2004, will forever remain imprinted on my mind. Then an Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Prof Wangari Maathai visited our mangrove reforestation project in the South Coast of Kenya. The day coincided with an annual expedition in which Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and Gazi community host Earthwatch Volunteersfrom all over the world; as they reforest mangroves in the degraded intertidal areas of Gazi bay.
Watching Wangari putting on Wellington boots, a smile in her face, and bending to plant mangroves in the denuded mudflats was the most humbling experience in my life. In this particular day some 3000 mangrove seedlings were replanted.
A month or so after visiting Gazi, Prof Maathai was declared winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. The mangrove fraternity in the world, and Gazi in particular, felt privileged to be associated with Prof. Maathai,s success. The mangrove plantation established by Prof Maathai at Gazi is located in the southern end of Gazi bay at the opening of Mkurumudji River. This plantation has since been named Wangari Plantation; and consist of mangrove species Sonneratia alba (or MLILANA in Swahili). This is the only mangrove species that can thrive in the seafront. Mlilana is harvested for quality building poles and firewood. The species is characterized by the presence of erect aerial roots used for breathing and binding soil. For this reason a fringing Sonneratia plantation provide a natural defense against storms and protect the shoreline from erosion. The Wangari Plantation is currently 7 years old and consists of trees reaching 4.0 meters in height with stem diameter of 5.0cm.
Mangroves are among the most productive ecosystems on earth; and constitute an important transition area between land and the sea. Most of the carbon produced by mangrove forests is either buried in sediments locally and in adjacent systems, or stored in forest biomass as the trees grow. Although mangroves occupy only 0.1% of the earth’s continental surface, the forests account for 11% of the total input of terrestrial carbon into the ocean. Mangroves are thus clearly a good candidate for countries interested in Carbon trading. The Western Indian Ocean has an estimated 1.1million ha of mangroves.
Mangrove Research Program of KMFRI is committed to enhancing mangrove productivity in Kenya by carrying out activities that benefit local communities and that could be eligible for attracting carbon investment. The Wangari Plantation is part of the 112ha of mangrove forests in Kenya that KMFRI is exploring for carbon offset projects. Sale of carbon captured in the mangroves of Gazi is expected to generate US$12,138/yr to the community as well as providing other ecosystem services such as habitat for fish and other wildlife. Prof Maathai’s legacy to the mangrove community in the region will forever remain with us through Wangari Plantation
Rest in Peace Mama Mazingira