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Posts Tagged ‘mangroves’

Photo: Larry D. Moore/ Wikimedia Commons.
Prof. Gretchen Daily of Stanford writes about “natural capital” and argues that nature preserves are not enough: conservation awareness needs to be part of all development decisions.

Needless to say, we shouldn’t have to put a monetary value on nature to save it, but then again, we shouldn’t have to offer a million-dollar lottery to the unvaccinated to do the right thing.

For those who need capitalistic arguments about the obvious good of our natural world, there’s a professor who can provide the data.

Gretchen Daily, says Tik Root at the Washington Post, “is a pioneer in the field known as ‘natural capital.’ Using science and software, she shows stakeholders why it benefits everyone to prioritize conservation.

“Colombia’s Gulf of Morrosquillo is home to thousands of mangroves. Their roots arc downward into salty seawater while their limbs climb upward — a mesmerizing entanglement of branches and leaves.

“But the mangroves must compete with hotels, resorts and other financial ventures in the tourist-dependent area, which spans 325 miles of Caribbean coastline. One study found that between 1960 and 2011, the mangrove population in Colombia dropped by more than half, largely due to human activities such as development or trash dumping.

“The burgeoning tourist destination of Rincón del Mar, for instance, is one of many towns along the gulf that was built on land cleared of the trees. And because there is no central garbage collection system, people’s wrappers, bottles, bags and other refuse often end up in the mangroves that still stand.

“In early 2020, the government signed a five-year, $300 million pact to promote tourism in the gulf area, where approximately 350,000 Colombians live. It called for, among other initiatives, building hotels, a hospital and aqueducts to alleviate a dearth of drinking water that threatens the growth of the tourism sector. But the plan could also put even more pressure on the mangroves, as well as the sea grasses, coral reefs and fisheries offshore.

“For Gretchen Daily, threats like these are also moments of opportunity.

‘Nature is often just seen as kind of in the way of prosperity,’ she said. ‘What we’re saying is that nature is crucial to prosperity.’

“Daily is a professor of biology at Stanford University and a pioneer in a field known as ‘natural capital.’ The term refers to the soil, air, water and other assets that nature has to offer. As a conservation model, it is rooted in the idea that nature has a measurable value to humans and that protection efforts must go far beyond walled-off reserves and be broadly integrated into development practice and planning. …

“By the time Daily and her team had identified the potential for impact in the Gulf of Morrosquillo, the coronavirus pandemic had confined the 56-year old to her home in Stanford, Calif. Zoom — which is decidedly not her natural habitat — became the norm.

“But within a matter of months, the Natural Capital Project put together a report for the Colombian government detailing that more than a third, or 118 miles, of the coastline had high exposure to flooding and coastal erosion. Protecting and restoring mangroves, the authors said, could help with that issue — especially along two specific stretches of the coast, including Rincón, where local activists say they’ve removed many tons of trash.

“Mangroves, the report highlighted, also nurture robust fisheries for local communities and sequester carbon at a rate two to four times greater than tropical rainforests. Left in their current state, the Morrosquillo mangroves will store 62 million tons of carbon by 2030 — the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road for a year — which could help the country toward its commitments under the Paris climate accord.

“ ‘Until now we didn’t have the specific information in a simple way to show the importance of maintaining the mangroves,’ said Santiago Aparicio, director of environment and sustainable development for the Colombian department of national planning. He added, ‘you don’t protect what you don’t value.’

“The next step, he said, is to take the information to mayors and local officials to incorporate that value into their development plans. [One] ‘ideal situation’ would be using mangroves instead of cement walls as barriers against rising sea levels fueled by climate change.

“For Daily, the work in Colombia has met all three of the criteria she uses when deciding whether to pursue a project: There must be a policy window that allows change; partners on the ground must be committed to that change; and the change must be scalable. …

“Daily’s own scientific curiosity dates back to middle school — or rather, she says, to her walks on the way to school.

“In 1977, Daily and her family lived in Kalbach, West Germany, where her father was stationed in the military. Then a 12-year-old, Daily and her sister would walk about a kilometer to class. It wasn’t far. But the route passed a coal plant.

“ ‘You could taste the acid on the tongue,’ she said of the pollution. The smell of coal permeated the air. ‘That turned me on to science.’ …

“ ‘Reserves are too small, too few and too isolated to sustain enough nature,’ she explained. ‘We have to be able to integrate nature into our normal lives.’ …

“ ‘Gretchen has really been the forerunner in clarifying the natural capital movement,’ said Carl Folke, director of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He said one major catalyst came in late 1997, when Daily edited the book Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems — recently referred to as ‘one of the most influential books published on the environment in the past 30 years.’ Read more at the Washington Post, here.

By the way, Francesca Forrest has a delightful fictional take on the mangroves-versus-hotels issue in her novella Lagoonfire, which features an imagined world that is both uncomfortably and amusingly familiar.

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