By Somaya Magdy Ghoraba, IUCN CEM Young Professional.
Although we live on the blue planet, ocean environment remains a mystery. A tiny per cent of earth’s oceans have been explored—may be due to difficulty of accessibility, accordingly, we know little about its biodiversity. Marine biodiversity varies from tiny microscopic planktons to huge predator creatures such as silky sharks. However, the highest marine biodiversity is found in coral reefs.
Marine ecosystems provide plenty of ecological services to planet Earth. It plays a significant role in the regulation of Earth’s weather and climate. When heat from the sun strikes ocean water, water evaporation occurs and heat transfers from the oceans to the atmosphere, especially near the hot equator. This evaporation of water creates giant cyclical convection cells that circulate air, heat, and moisture both vertically and from place to place in the atmosphere. Thus, heat from the ocean affects atmospheric circulation. The ocean can store atmospheric carbon in a process called carbon sequestration. This reduces the amount of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases, released into the atmosphere and help in the mitigation of global warming impacts. One fact is that the amount of carbon stored in the ocean exceeds the amount in the atmosphere. This process occurs naturally; however, some new techniques are developed to emphasise the benefits of carbon storage called carbon capture and storage.
The protection and restoration of marine ecosystem and biodiversity are considered among the natural-based solutions to tackle some of the environmental challenges we have today. Nature-based solutions are defined by IUCN as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”. As the global warming crisis is prevailing worldwide, mangrove trees can act as a natural barrier against some of the global warming consequences such as sea-level rise. This is much cheaper and more efficient than building concrete sea walls. The restoration and management of ocean and wetlands reduce the impacts of flooding, in particular in low land areas. Coral reefs can reduce 92% of the effects of waves and is cheaper than water breaks.
A large number of initiatives around the world have adopted the concept of the natural-based solution to mitigate the impacts of natural hazards. Here are some few examples: In Indonesia, the world’s largest area of mangroves is found. They started a program to restore more of these areas to avoid coastal erosion. In Vietnam, planting and protecting 12,000 hectares of mangroves has resulted in an increase in carbon storage, enhanced biodiversity and improved coastal protection, saving about 7 million dollars each year. In Thailand, the benefit from mangroves estimates an average of US $ 187,898 per mangrove square kilometre. The restoration project of Franco-Swiss Rhone enhanced river biodiversity and reduced exposure to flooding risk for communities downstream from restoration areas. In France, benefits from reefs and mangroves that prevent damage to the coastal zone, estimated by savings 115 to 220 million Euros in a year.
It is not surprising that ecosystem management contributes to the economy. Of course, nature can save a lot of money as it can mitigate and restore itself, if not subjected to severe human interference. The protection of the earth’s ecosystems is everyone’s responsibility. By adopting concepts such as nature-based solutions, we will be able to restore the poor quality environment, save a lot of money and improve the standard of living for communities. I would like to end with such a simple and expressive quote of Frank Lloyd Wright:
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
Ms Somaya Magdy Ghoraba currently doing her PhD at Department of Environmental Sciences, Alexandria University, Egypt.