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Forests our lifeline

21/03/2021 - 10:00
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As this year’s theme for the International Day of Forests is “Restoration: Pathway for recovery and human well-being”, it is the occasion to reflect on the essential role that forests – as part of our fundamental ecosystem – play. In particular, after lessons learnt from the Covid pandemic it is clear that humanity should respect and protect nature. This year’s theme fits with the declaration by the United Nations of 2021-2030 as the decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Our livelihood and our mere existence depends on this.

However, forests are facing increasing threats. The Amazonia forest, which accounts for 1/3 of the world's tropical forests, is experiencing rapid deforestation. According to satellite data, an area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of a football pitch is being cleared every single minute. Deforestation, mainly caused by the conversion of forestland to agriculture and livestock areas, threatens not only the livelihoods of local communities, but also the biological diversity. According to the FAO, deforestation is the second-leading cause of climate change after burning fossil fuels and accounts for nearly 20 % of all greenhouse gas emissions - more than the world’s entire transport sector.

In Mauritius, only 2% of the original forest existing prior to the colonisation in the 17th century remain (this represents 25 % of the land area of the island). With the EU-funded Ridge to Reef programme signed earlier this year, this is expected to change. 

Forests are known to provide a multitude of benefits:

The native forest of the Black River Gorges National Park, covering an area of 6,500 hectares harbours a rich diversity of plants and animal species unique to Mauritius. It is the main habitats of the endemic birds such as Pink Pigeon, Mauritius Kestrel and the Echo Parakeet as well as the site where the endemic ebony trees thrive.

  • Rich in biodiversity and important habitats for plant and animal species  : Forests are rich in biodiversity and are important habitats for animal and plant species. The native forest of the Black River Gorges National Park, covering an area of 6,500 hectare harbours a rich diversity of plants and animal species unique to Mauritius. It is known as the main habitats of the endemic birds such as Pink Pigeon, Mauritius Kestrel and the Echo Parakeet as well as the site where the endemic ebony trees thrive.
  • For human enjoyment and well being: The Covid pandemic and consequent lockdowns have highlighted the importance of nature and its conservation. Forest plays an important part in providing recreation opportunities and health benefits. Many visitors including tourists come to the Black River Gorges National Park for recreation, hiking and jogging. Therefore, there is an opportunity to promote ecotourism and generate green employment.
  • Forest acts as important sink for carbon dioxide emissions in the climate crisis : Forest sequester the CO2 emitted through human activities.
  • Forest as nature-based solutions to climate change: Mangrove forests are clear examples of existing nature-based solutions to impacts/risks of climate change such as storm surge or sea level rise. Mangrove, through the protection they offer, are also essential for the reproduction of fish and marine mammals. Moreover, forest provide ecosystem services as climate regulation and soil conservation.

Yet the forests in Mauritius face major threats:

  • Forest degradation due to invasive plant species : the invasive Chinese guava, which is a threat to the remaining 2% of Mauritius’ native forest, has caused habitat degradation, thereby endangering the recovery of Mauritius’ already threatened endemic birds and plants.
  • Sustainable forest management practices are not adopted : The majority of the private-owned forests do not implement a sustainable approach for management.
  • Climate change : Climate change may exacerbate the threats such as an increase in invasive plants leading to loss of the ecosystem services that forest provide such as soil conservation and flood regulation.

The Ridge to Reef project

At the end of the 4-year project, we will have planted 500 000 trees, representing 1 new tree for every 2 Mauritians. The project will also help Mauritius upscale its target of 1,200 hectare of forest area restored by 2026.

Under the Ridge to Reef project, the European Union is working with the Government of Mauritius with an integrated approach to ensure that one action – in this case reforestation and mangrove plantation – allows achieving several objectives simultaneously. The project targets biodiversity restoration, climate change mitigation and enhancement of food security at the same time. Such an approach has an even stronger merit for small island states like Mauritius where land is scarce. The project aims to :

  • Plant more than 50,000 to 100,000 native trees annually to increase the tree cover. This is essential to enhance the environment and the carbon capacity of forests in line with the national forest policy objectives and the National Determined Contribution that Mauritius presented in 2015 for COP 25. At the end of the 4-year project, we will have planted 500,000 trees, representing 1 new tree for every two Mauritians.
  • Remove the invasive plant species in order to restore and maintain an area of more than 700 hectare of forest ecosystem including mangrove forest ecosystems. The project will help Mauritius upscale its target of 1,200 hectares of forest area restored by 2026.
  • Increase the area of native forest area through the creation of new forest areas including through sensitisation of farmers on environmentally or nature-friendly agricultural practices. With the project, the surface area of native forest cover will be increased by 100 hectares.

The project is funded by the European Union as part of its Integrated Landscape Management initiative.

 

Photo by trevor pye on Unsplash