Mangrove forests around the world face existential threats from human activity and climate change. Tanzania’s Rufiji delta, a once thriving natural mangrove wetland, has not been spared.
The mangrove wetland has steadily been hived off for rice farming, illegally logged for fuel and timber, and destroyed by upstream activities such as salt production, human settlement, and cattle grazing. Forestry experts also point to an "invasive" lianas plant species that affects mangrove growth.
To mark this year’s World International Wetlands day on July 26, Wetlands International, a non-profit body launched a programme to restore at least 2,000 hectares of mangroves at the Rufiji delta, in line with the government’s pledge to restore 5.2 million hectares of forests across the country over the next decade.
According to Wetlands International Eastern Africa director Julie Mulonga, the organisation’s “To Plant or Not To Plant” scheme is aligned with Tanzania’s countrywide forestry restoration 10-year pledge.
The government, through the Tanzania Forest Services Agency, will partner with Wetlands International on a Tsh7.34 billion ($3.16 million) management plan to restore the delta. The plan outlines harvesting guidelines and projects to replant up to 16,000 hectares of mangroves in the 53,355-hectare delta, over a five-year period.
It is estimated that about 7,000 hectares of mangroves were lost due to "tremendous" changes in vegetation cover within the Rufiji delta between 1991 and 2015. And in 2016, the government imposed a ban on mangrove harvesting inside the delta.
Experts say that other than providing a natural habitat for marine life, bird, and plant species, mangroves also protect against coastal storms and soil erosion and purify water.