Mangroves: a precious resource. Photo: S. Baba,

Mangrove forests provide a verdant link between land and sea. These communities of salt-adapted trees, shrubs, palms and ferns protect coastlines by absorbing the energy of storm-driven waves and wind and regulate estuarine and coastal water quality through sedimentation and nutrient uptake.

For centuries, too, mangrove forests have sustained the traditional cultures of coastal populations as a source of fish and game, firewood, medicines, tannins and fodder for livestock. And they have supported the development of industries that use them as a source of raw materials for paper, chipboard, charcoal and construction.

But mangrove ecosystems are being lost at an estimated 100,000 hectares a year, and thousands more hectares are being degraded by over-use and natural disasters, such as the December 2004 Asian tsunami, to the point that often their survival is in doubt.

Recognizing both the plight of mangrove forests and their important role in the tropics, ITTO has developed a broad portfolio of field-based mangrove projects implemented in partnership with local, national and international organizations. These projects are designed to assist countries and communities to conserve, rehabilitate and sustainably manage their mangrove ecosystems; examples include mapping, inventory and land-use planning to support the allocation of a national permanent mangrove forest estate in Gabon and Venezuela, mangrove restoration and sustainable management in Thailand, Egypt and Congo, and maintaining mangrove-based fisheries as part of sustainable mangrove use in Panama.

In Colombia, an ITTO project has earmarked 35 mangrove management units along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts for preservation, rehabilitation or production. More than 50 mangrove restoration sites have been established to compare the survival and growth of mangrove species; community nurseries are producing seedlings and refining planting techniques; and monitoring systems are recording growth conditions. Communities trained by the project in mangrove husbandry have embarked on pilot projects to replant mangroves on degraded lands, reopen silted channels and re-establish fisheries, and ancestral knowledge on mangrove forest harvesting is being revived. The project is also generating new information about the mangroves; for example, wildlife surveys have revealed several species that had not previously been recorded on the Colombian Caribbean coast, some that are new to the country, and some that are possibly new to science.

ITTO has funded the establishment of an international network for the conservation and sustainable use of mangrove forest genetic resources, the creation of a manual for mangrove ecosystem restoration, the publication of a highly regarded World Mangrove Atlas (a thorough revision of which is now underway), and the establishment of a mangrove database known as GLOMIS – the Global Mangrove Database and Information System.

The International Tropical Timber Council signalled its intention to further strengthen the Organization's mangrove program when it approved the ITTO Mangrove Workplan for the period 2002–2006 to guide those member nations seeking ITTO support for mangrove management, conservation and rehabilitation projects. With strong partnerships already in place with diverse mangrove-related organizations, ITTO is well placed to increase its assistance to mangrove-dependent communities and to promote the sustainable use of these threatened ecosystems.

For a detailed account of ITTO's action agenda, please refer to the ITTO Action Plan 2008-2011, or click on Resources and Project portfolio to see more about ITTO's work on mangroves.