Egypt replants mangrove ‘treasures’ to combat the effects of climate change.

Fish swim among thousands of newly planted mangroves on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, as part of a program to boost biodiversity, protect coastlines, and combat climate change and its consequences.
After decades of destruction, the mangroves were reduced to fragmented patches totaling 500 hectares (1,200 acres), the size of a few hundred football fields.
The unique plants, according to Sayed Khalifa, the head of Egypt’s agriculture syndicate who is leading mangrove replanting efforts, are a “treasure” because of their ability to grow in salt water where they face no drought problems.
“It’s an entire ecosystem,” Khalifa explained, knee-deep in water. “When mangroves are planted, marine life, crustaceans, and birds all flock in.”

Small fish and tiny crab larvae dart through the shallows between the tentacle-like roots of months-old saplings, making the trees important nurseries for marine life.
Khalifa’s team is raising tens of thousands of seedlings in a nursery, which will be used to rehabilitate six key areas along the Red Sea and Sinai coast, with the goal of replanting 210 hectares.
However, Khalifa hopes to expand the mangroves as far as “possible,” pointing past a yacht marina six kilometers (four miles) to the south.
The government-funded program, which costs around $50,000 per year, was launched five years ago.
‘They punch well above their weight.’

Mangroves also have a significant impact on climate change mitigation.

According to the UN Environment Programme, resilient trees “punch above their weight,” absorbing five times more carbon than terrestrial forests (UNEP).

Trees also help to filter water pollution and act as a natural barrier against rising seas and extreme weather, protecting coastal communities from damaging storms.

According to UNEP, protecting mangroves is a thousand times less expensive than building seawalls over the same distance.

Despite their importance, mangroves are rapidly disappearing around the world.

Researchers estimate that over a third of the world’s mangroves have been lost, with losses of up to 80% in some Indian Ocean coastlines.

Niko Howai, a mangrove expert at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, said that in the past, many governments failed to recognize “the importance of mangroves,” instead focusing on lucrative “opportunities to earn revenue,” such as coastal development.

According to Kamal Shaltout, a botany professor at Egypt’s Tanta University, “mass tourism activities and resorts, which cause pollution,” as well as boat activity and oil drilling, have wreaked havoc on mangroves.

Shaltout warned that if these threats are not addressed, mangrove restoration efforts will “go to waste.”

“The problem is that we have so few mangroves that any damage causes total disruption,” he explained.

The Effects of Mass Tourism

There is little reliable information on how much damage has occurred, but Shaltout stated that “there are areas that have been completely destroyed,” particularly around the major resort town of Hurghada.

The Red Sea tourism industry accounts for 65% of Egypt’s vital tourism industry.

According to a 2018 study by Shaltout and colleagues, the scale of damage “probably far exceeds what could be replaced by any replanting program for years to come.”

Efforts to connect replanted areas may be hampered by marinas, resorts, and coastal settlements.

“Mangroves are tough, but they’re also delicate, especially as saplings,” Howai explained.

“It is not impossible to combine mangrove reforestation with existing development projects, but it will be more difficult.”

Shaltout believes that in order to be successful, tourist operators must be involved, including by tasking resorts with replanting areas themselves.

“It could even come with tax breaks to tell them that just as they have made a profit, they should also play a role in protecting nature,” the botanist suggested.

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