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Sri Lankans work together to save native mangroves

Working to reverse decades of damage done to its country's landscape, the Sri Lankan government is now joining forces with environmentalists, pledging to help protect what's left of the nation's native mangrove forests. Once plundered for things like farming and during the country's civil war the focus is now on preserving what's seen as a valuable natural resource.

Sri Lankans work together to save native mangroves

Now regarded as providing a natural barrier to potentially destructive tsunamis and important for the protection of land and other resources, Sri Lanka is taking an active approach to preserving its existing mangrove forests. A recent article published on AP Images Spotlight with photographs by Eranga Jayawardena and text by Krishan Francis provides a visual and written narrative of the importance of saving the mangroves left on the island.

As explained in the article, government leaders have teamed with environmentalists to preserve 37,000 acres of mangrove forests. It’s estimated over the past couple of decades or so that Sri Lanka has lost about 6,000 acres, cleared for farming, production or cut down during the nation’s long-standing civil war.

With a new president in office, though, the island nation is taking a more proactive approach to preservation. The seawater-tolerant trees are noted for their role in building landmasses, helping to control global warming and even lessening the potential destruction of things like tsunamis.

One photograph showcased in the article is of conservation workers en route to plant new mangrove saplings north of Colombo while another shows soil bags being assembled at a mangrove nursery. It’s pointed out that a third of the world’s mangrove species grow in Sri Lanka, beneficial for nurturing fish and providing for lagoon fishermen. Many of the included photographs show fishermen casting their nets, surrounded by mangrove forests.

The roots of the mangroves can also help prevent coastal erosion plus the trees are noted for leaving more carbon dioxide in the soil than other types of forests. As well, medical researchers are testing the theory that the trees contain compounds that may be useful in fighting off certain types of cancer cells.

While a museum dedicated in part to mangrove conservation efforts recently opened on the island, the U.S.-based organization Seacology is also working with the Sri Lankan government in a replanting program. A partnership with the Small Fishers’ Federation of Sri Lanka is currently preparing hundreds of thousands of mangrove seedlings in hopes of replanting 1,000 acres by the end of 2016. To help with the economy of the region the project aims to bring in local workers to protect the plantations and in return provide those people with microloans for small businesses.

Executive director for Seacology Duane Silverstein says it’s a valuable solution for both sides:

“By offering training and funding to develop alternatives to cutting mangroves, the project’s livelihoods program is alleviating poverty as well as protecting mangroves. It’s a win-win situation.”

While working to preserve its resources the Sri Lankan government is also working to find new ways to incorporate the effort into tourism, balancing development with conservation and promoting ecotourism within the locations of the mangroves.

Already tourists flock to Sri Lanka for its sensational beaches, ancient buildings and temples, adventurous surfing and diverse wildlife. Leaders now hope to add ecotourism opportunities to the list of reasons why foreign travellers choose to book a holiday in Sri Lanka.

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