U.S. Forest Service Scientist Helps Establish First Mangrove Experimental Forest in Africa

Rufiji Mangrove Research and Training Forest in Tanzania

Sunrise on the Rufiji River - Tanzania Forestry Services field station, Nyamisati. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service.
Sunrise on the Rufiji River – Tanzania Forestry Services field station, Nyamisati. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service.

Mangrove forests stabilize the tropical and subtropical coastlines of most of the world’s continents and provide valuable ecosystem services such as fish habitat and storm buffering. Unfortunately, mangroves are one of the world’s most threatened tropical forest ecosystems, with an estimated 35 percent of the forests already gone worldwide and others being cleared daily for tourist developments, harbors, shrimp aquaculture, rice farms, salt production and other purposes.

On December 23, 2015, Tanzania Forestry Services formally designated the Rufiji Mangrove Research and Training Forest and signed a memorandum of agreement with the University of Dar es Salaam Institute of Marine Studies to manage the forest and associated programs. The U.S. Forest Service, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), provided technical support for the establishment of the mangrove research and training forest (MRTF), the first of two planned for East Africa.

“The new MRTF provides a focal point for long-term monitoring and research,” says Carl Trettin, Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientist who coordinates the Rufiji project with Mwita Mangora from the University of Dar es Salaam. “The aim is to provide the scientific foundation needed to address pressing coastal zone management issues, especially where mangroves occur.”

Though making up less than one percent of the world’s tropical forests, mangroves store up to five times the carbon per area of upland tropical forests. Mangroves also have the highest carbon density among coastal and marine ecosystems, which collectively constitute the global Blue Carbon pool.  Accordingly, deforestation of mangroves has significant consequences to carbon stocks and associated ecosystems services. Climate adaptation and mitigation strategies such as the United Nations Collaborative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD and REDD+) that offer financial incentives for developing countries to reduce deforestation are particularly relevant to mangroves.

The designation of the Rufiji MRTF in Tanzania marks an important milestone for the East Africa Mangrove Carbon Project started in 2013 with funding from the USAID and U.S. Forest Service International Programs to build capacity in the region to incorporate mangrove ecosystems into REDD+ readiness activities, and to develop the information needed for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies that include the needs of the human communities that depend on mangrove forests for their livelihoods.

The new Rufiji MRTF is located in the Rufiji River Delta, the second largest river delta in Africa and the endpoint for many of the land use, deforestation, and other environmental problems that originate within the floodplain and lands upstream. The MRTF consists of almost 25,000 acres that are representative of coastal landscape including mangrove forests, areas that have been converted to agriculture, and villages. This February, Trettin and Mangora led a field mission to inventory the carbon stock within the Rufiji MRTF, installing plots to measure tree growth, documenting land cover classes for validating remote sensing data, and installing climate and hydrology monitoring equipment.

“The Rufiji is the first of two MRTFs for East Africa,” says Trettin. “The next, the Maputo Bay MRTF, will be located down the coast from the Rufiji MRTF in Mozambique. The Maputo Bay MRTF will be smaller, consisting of a total of around 4,700 acres in four separate parcels around the bay that are good representatives of the many areas in East Africa threatened by human activities.”

In addition to providing long-term data for both environmental and socio-economic research, the MTRFs provide a basis for leveraging additional research projects and help facilitate interdisciplinary research efforts that include the surrounding communities in strategies for resource management and conservation.

For more information, email Carl Trettin at ctrettin@fs.fed.us

Trettin and research hydrologist Christina Stringer, scientists with SRS Center for Forested Wetlands Research, have both traveled to East Africa several times in the last few years, helping to quantify the carbon stocks in the mangrove forests of the Zambezi Delta in Mozambique, and establishing plots for a multi-agency project to develop remote sensing tools to assess and monitor carbon pools in African mangrove forests. Last summer, Stringer and collaborators used the data sets they developed to publish the first comprehensive carbon stock estimate for East Africa’s mangrove forests.


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