Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cuba Looks to Mangroves to Fend off Rising Seas

Cuba Looks to Mangroves to Fend off Rising Seas
HAVANA — Jul 24, 2014, 12:04 AM ET
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ Associated Press

Many people in this tiny hamlet on the southern coast of Cuba remember
when the shore lay about 100 meters (yards) farther out. That was four
decades ago.

Since then, rising waters have gradually swallowed up rustic homes, a
narrow highway that once paralleled the coast, even an old military tank
that people now use to measure the sea's yearly advance.

"There was a road there," said Jose Manuel Herrera, 42, a fisherman and
former charcoal harvester, pointing toward the gentle waves. "You could
travel from here all the way to Mayabeque."

Worried by forecasts of rising seas from climate change, the effects of
hurricanes and the salinization of farmlands, authorities say they are
beginning a forced march to repair Cuba's first line of defense against
the advancing waters — its mangrove thickets, which have been damaged by
decades of neglect and uncontrolled logging.

In the second half of 2013, a moratorium was declared on mangrove
logging. Now, the final touches are being put on a sustainable
management master plan that is expected to be in place before the end of
the year. President Raul Castro has said the plan is a top priority.

What makes the effort vital and closely monitored by environmentalists
is that Cuba is one of the few places left in the Caribbean with
extensive mangrove forests. Cuba accounts for about 69 percent of the
region's current mangroves, the New York-based Environmental Defense
Fund says. Mangroves act as both a barrier to the sea and a saltwater
filter, making them important for coastal health.

Even in Cuba, experts say the situation is critical.

"The situation is bad. More than 30 percent of the mangroves are in a
critical state," government forest scientist Reynier Samon said on a
recent tour of Surgidero de Batabano, an area where deforestation has
been extreme. The rest, he said, are in a state of medium deterioration.

Mangroves historically have been harvested heavily, for textile dyes,
tannins used in the pharmaceutical industry, lumber for furniture and
charcoal that rural Cubans rely on to fire their kitchens.

But healthy mangrove stands are important to alleviating one of the
island's biggest headaches: Rising seas stand to wipe 122 towns off the
map and penetrate up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) inland in low-lying
areas by 2100, posing a serious threat to coastal communities and
agriculture, according to a government study last year.

Efrain Arrazcaeta, who runs a local environmental nonprofit, has
witnessed the phenomenon with growing alarm. His group estimates a
2-meter (6.6-foot) maritime advance each year, using the submerged tank
as a reference point.

"If the mangroves are restored, the mitigation of these effects will be
notable," Arrazcaeta said.

No details of the mangrove plan have been made public. It will
apparently include sustainable exploitation measures with some logging
for the pharmaceutical industry under study, though the moratorium will
remain more or less in place.

Officials are also waging a public awareness campaign to educate coastal
residents to be caretakers of the tangled, mosquito-infested thickets.
The campaign shows them how their own homes and farms are at stake and
urges them to protect freshwater streams vital for maintaining the right
saline levels.

"The perception of the importance of this ecosystem for these
communities is low. They see it as something to exploit," said Samon,
the government scientist.

Source: Cuba Looks to Mangroves to Fend off Rising Seas - ABC News -

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