The article is supported by Climate Tracker and Internews’ Earth Journalism Network through the Climate and Water Nexus Media Fellowship program.

Indonesia is betting big on mangrove restoration in its contribution to global climate change mitigation, but experts say conservation will be just as essential if not more important in maximizing the role of mangroves in mitigating climate change.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is aiming to restore up to 600,000 hectares of mangroves by 2024, citing mangroves’ capacity to absorb more carbon than terrestrial forests thus strengthening the country’s commitment to reducing emissions under the Paris Agreement, among other ecological and economic benefits.

Jokowi put the Mangrove and Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRGM) at the helm of the initiative.

Restoring mangrove forests larger than the size of Bali island is a “laudable move”, but conservation is just as important due to the huge risk of mangrove deforestation, said Virni Budi Arifanti, a forestry researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency’s (BRIN) Research Center for Ecology and Ethnobiology.

Virni is an author of a study published in the Global Change Biology journal, in which she found that mangrove restoration efforts until 2030 could prevent the release of 8.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year.

But keeping existing ones intact could keep even up to 32 million tonnes from being emitted per year until 2030.

“We should not be struck by the euphoria of planting mangroves but forget to protect the existing ones,” Virni said on Aug. 31.

It is high time for the government to issue a regulation to stop granting business concessions on mangroves areas or a moratorium on mangroves, she said

Planting challenges

Restoring and conserving mangroves is not without its challenges. Virni said that the particular mangrove seedlings used in restoration efforts, while common in Indonesia, would not always survive in all coastal areas.

Restoration campaigns usually use seedlings from the genus Rhizophora, specifically the Asiatic mangrove (Rhizophora mucronata) or the stilt mangrove (Rhizophora apiculata).

Mangrove restoration projects should be started with a survey to see if the site is fit for mangroves, Virni suggested, such as whether the species of mangrove seedlings could survive after planting at the site or whether the site could actually host mangroves, as some ecosystems such as beaches with seagrass meadows were not wholly compatible with mangroves.

She added that replanting mangroves in areas that had been disrupted by human activity, like former fish farms, should be preceded by restoring the replanting site so that the tides could reach them.

The BRGM has worked on a national mangrove rehabilitation road map for 2021 to 2030 with the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

The agency’s planning and evaluation deputy Satyawan Pudyatmoko said that the first step in the road map was identifying areas fit for mangrove restoration according to the national mangrove map issued by the ministry, as previous mangrove restoration efforts either from the government or private institutions did not always consider whether the
area was fit for mangrove restoration.

“We are trying to consolidate all of these initiatives to make sure that they did not choose the wrong location for mangrove restoration,” Satyawan said on Sept. 1.

Satyawan added that the agency would work with private sectors and NGOs in restoring mangroves to achieve the restoration target faster as relying on only the state budget would not be enough.

However, as the BRGM’s task was mostly to speed up mangrove rehabilitation efforts, the responsibility for mangrove aftercare would depend on the status of the mangrove areas, Satyawan said.

For the continued aftercare of mangrove sites, Satyawan said that the Environment and Forestry Ministry was preparing a regulation on mangrove ecosystem protection that would consolidate mangrove aftercare efforts among stakeholders and mangrove area owners.

Satyawan’s hope to collaborate with private initiatives seems to have been realized to some extent. Mangrove Jakarta, a nonprofit community focusing on rehabilitating mangroves, have replanted over 35,000 seeds on the northern coast of Greater Jakarta. Its work has covered a total area of 1.3 ha.

But the work has met challenges that mostly come from local residents, who know the importance of mangroves to the ecosystem but do little to nothing to make sure the trees are growing well by, for example, cleaning the sites from debris or building a barrier to protect young mangrove seedlings.

“It would be useless to plant hectares of mangroves, anyone can do that,” said Bayu Pamungkas, the cofounder of Mangrove Jakarta on Sept. 13. “But to make sure that they grow well and big, there needs to be a community assistance program.”

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