Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction

Location: Maldives . 22nd Feb 2017

On the occasion of World Wetlands Day - February 2, Adam Abdulla, Maldives’s National Coordinator for the Mangroves for the Future Programme, talks about the priceless value of wetland ecosystems, not least of it being a natural barrier that can reduce disaster risk.
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The closest mangrove ecosystem from capital Male’ situated in K.Hura. MFF did an assessment of the diversity of the mangroves and carried out an economic valuation exercise of Hura Mangroves through one of its grant project © Adam Abdulla

Wetlands help us cope with extreme weather events and they need to be conserved.

Many of the Maldivian islands, especially those in the Southern and Northern region enjoy the benefits of wetlands. For centuries, our connection to these wetlands and mangroves has been a complex and dynamic one.

For our current generation, there are very important lessons to be learnt from our forefathers and past generations on wetlands, that would not only help to conserve wetland ecosystems but also generate knowledge and know-how to manage them sustainability. 
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The mangrove ecosystem of H.Dh Neykurandhoo. The dense Bruguiera cylindrica not only provided timber but also the propagules were consumed as a staple © Adam Abdulla.

This valuable ancestral knowledge comes from across the archipelago:

Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuffushi Island: 
Burevi - Black Mangrove (a bit of an invasive true mangrove species), was extracted as firewood in a controlled manner in this island. Firewood collection was allowed at certain times of the year and restricted to certain areas. This has resulted in Kulhudhuffishi mangroves, to this day, having the densest black mangrove forests in the country, including some mature and old trees. The mangrove ecosystem in Kulhuffushi controls flooding during rain, as water naturally flows into it. The mangrove is also used by local women to soak coconut husk for coir rope making.  Kulhuhuffushi mangrove is also a habitat for migratory birds and the diversity of avian fauna despite its industrial outlook, which is something which amazes visitors.

Haa Alif Baarah Island:
 Red mangrove trees were felled for use in home building in the island of Baarah, thanks to their slender and tall trunks. For every red mangrove tree cut, several more were planted according to the locals. Felling of really old trees were not allowed and felling was restricted to certain areas. Baarah mangroves are teeming with a diverse variety of marine fauna. It is a breeding ground and a nursery for sting rays, lemon sharks and many other species of fish.
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A tidal mangrove in Baarah. The seedlings are yellow mangrove (Ceriops tegal) a true mangrove species rare in the Maldives 
© Adam Abdulla.

Haa Dhaalu Neykurandhoo Island: Kandoo - propagule or fruit of small leafed-orange mangrove, was consumed as a staple food. Kandoo could only be collected on Saturdays for two hours after the Island Chief blows the conch. Collection from core areas was not allowed and sweeping of forest floor was not allowed either to prevent over extraction. Some propagules had to be left behind for regrowth.

Laamu Gaadhoo Island: the brackish mangrove area gets opened for reef fish to lay their eggs. This became useful during “Hulhangu” season, when the seas got rough, as the reef fish from the mangroves could be caught for consumption.

Gaafu Dhaalu Fiyoree Island: at the start of the “Halha” season, there is an inflow of salt water into the wetlands from sea surges. The locals would set up groups to control the inflow of salt water. The excess water collected was let out carefully during the two or three nights, with locals staying awake in shifts. Mud is removed by dragging “kashikeyo” (pandanus) crowns. Controlled salinity allowed taro to be cultivated, and draining ensured that excess flood water was let out through this friendly flood control system.

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Cultivated taro in a container made from palm fronds. Taro is still widely consumed as a delicacy and are grown in the marshlands © Adam Abdulla.

 

Noonu Kendhikulhudhoo Island: The mangrove is linked to the lagoon during “Halha” season, allowing Bang (milkfish/Chanos chanos) to lay their eggs. Mud is removed during this period. Milkfish is caught and eaten as a delicacy to this day.

These are some of the amazing ways in which our past generations engaged with wetlands.  However, things are changing with the changes in time, and our lifestyles. People began choosing flour and rice over kandoo. Kulhavaha fruit, even though rich in vitamin C, were forgotten in some areas for the imported orange. With gas stoves, firewood no longer had to be extracted. Timber started to be imported for building our homes and fiber and imported timber started to be used by boat builders.

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Three keen explorers wade through the tidal mangrove of Baarah. It sure is a site of aesthetic beauty and there is great potential for ecotourism in the mangrove area © Adam Abdulla.

 

While some changes might have been a necessity with the changing times, we must not forgot the value of our wetlands and mangroves. In fact, there has never been a more important time, as the Maldives fights the adverse effects of climate change.

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Koaru or a brackish mangrove in Baarah. A breeding ground and nursery for sahrks, sting rays and many other marine creatures. It is also said that the boat used by Muhamdh Thakurfaanu to wage war against the Portuguese to liberate the country used this area as a hiding spot © Adam Abdulla.


That brings us to the theme. Mangrove ecosystem provides many regulatory services in addition to the provisional services listed above. They act as water sinks and helps control flooding of our island during heavy rain and sea surges (udha). The effects of the 2004 tsunami were also felt less in islands that harbor wetlands including mangroves and marshlands. They help control sedimentation and are in symbiosis with the reef ecosystem, the bedrock and on which the existence of Maldivian islands depend. Numerous fish and marine organisms spend a part of their juvenile life in wetlands. The tree roots protect them from large predators. These same tree roots which are highly adapted and often above the ground, stabilizes the soil and act as a barrier to coastal erosion. As mangrove ecosystem act as water sinks and prevents salt water intrusion, they help regulate the ground water lens by helping it replenish as well by preventing contamination. 

These are all reasons why we should conserve wetland ecosystems.

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A mother and daughter wade through the thick Bruguiera cylindrical forests of H,Dh Neykurandhoo. The mangrove ecosystem is a site of aesthetic beauty and has much potential for eco-tourism © Adam Abdulla.

 

When we get rid of them we have to invest in artificial structures to replace the services they offer. These structures do not have the natural beauty and aesthetics and do not support the ecological diversity which the wetlands do. They require maintenance, and economic costs are involved in building as well as maintaining them. 

Fioyoaree Marshland and Taro

Taro fields in the Fiyooaree Marshland area. Goes to show that all connections has not being lost with our wetlands © Adam Abdulla.


Wetlands on the other hand, are self-regulating and the diversity and beauty they offer is linked to the identity of Maldivians and our way of life. On this World Wetlands Day, let’s make an attempt to reconnect with these majestic ecosystems. Let’s rebuild our relationships with them, and conserve them by drawing from our forefathers.


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The closest mangrove ecosystem from capital Male’ situated ... © Adam Abdullah

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