global perspectives

The largest mangrove restoration project in the world enters phase two

22 April 2023 / WORDS BY John Ambler

The air hangs warm and heavy over the delta, disturbed only by the flatbottomed boat skimming through the labyrinth of creeks and inlets. As Karachi fades further into the distance behind us, the enormity of the degraded mudflat unfolds around us. This landscape appears largely devoid of life, dark, reflective mud is all the remains of an ancient mangrove forest. As we enter the project zone we begin to see signs of life in the vast landscape around us.

Over several generations, unregulated clearing and grazing in Pakistan has caused widespread degradation of the mangrove forests within the Indus River Delta. As with many cases of ecosystem degradation, a significant driver is the local people who need to earn a living. Restoration projects that deliver ongoing economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits to the local community are imperative to prolonged success.

That’s the aim of Delta Blue Carbon. This is an ambitious project that is restoring critical mangrove habitat, creating a large carbon market that is genuinely nature-positive, and offering the local community tangible benefits and a starring role in the restoration and stewardship of their environment.

The fan-shaped network of swamps, creeks, estuaries, and marshes of the Indus River Delta creates an ideal habitat for mangrove forests, migrating water birds, a diversity of fish and even the endangered Indus River dolphin. Restoring the Indus River Delta will not only ensure the survival of a Ramsar listed wetland ecosystem and its inhabitants, it also presents an enormous blue carbon market opportunity, as mangroves store up to five times as much carbon as tropical forests.

Blue carbon ecosystems – mangroves, tidal and salt marshes, and seagrasses – are highly productive coastal ecosystems that are particularly important for their capacity to store carbon within the plants and in the sediments below. The success of a blue carbon project is dependent on the health of its ecosystem and biodiversity, making blue carbon an ideal nature-based solution for climate change.

Despite their potential, mangroves and other blue carbon ecosystems are some of the most threatened on Earth. Mangrove ecosystems alone are being lost at a rate of 2% per year. Experts estimate that carbon emissions from mangrove deforestation account for up to 10% of emissions from deforestation globally, despite covering just 0.7% of land coverage.

Delta Blue Carbon couldn’t come at a better time. In partnership with local communities, the vast replanting and protection works have resulted in the largest mangrove reforestation project in the world. Aside from the immense environmental and climate benefits, the project has created hundreds of jobs for the local people, who are employed to restore and protect the new plantings under long term agreements.

In March last year, the first verified offsets were generated, and the sale of the first tranche of carbon credits was announced. The project is projected to sequester an estimated 142 million tonnes of CO2e over its 60-year lifetime.

Now in its seventh year, Delta Blue Carbon’s second phase (DBC-2) is commencing. In this phase, Pollination, Indus Delta Capital, and the Government of Sindh will nearly double the size of the project, to a total of about 6,000 square kilometers.

To prepare for this expansion, in collaboration with the project team, Pollination designed and co-led a series of workshops – known as social and biodiversity impact assessment workshops – with a cross-section of community members in the delta. Over the course of six days, these communities described challenges they face including a lack of roads, electricity, drinking water, food, livelihoods opportunities, education, and medical care.

A village leader invited me into his home, proud to show the beautiful high-quality textiles made by women in the community. In response to the steep rates charged by middlemen, Pollination and its partners are building market linkages to help these community sell directly to buyers.

Pakistan is among which contributes to many of these challenges. Through a series of structured exercises, the project team and community members worked to diagram their challenges and co-design activities that would help to address them.

The Indus River Delta and its inhabitants are resilient. With initial assistance from the project, the mangroves are capable of replenishing themselves in abundance. The communities who largely rely on subsistence farming or fisheries, are highly dependent on the ecosystem services generated by the mangroves. These services include supporting fish populations, erosion control and storm protection, heat mitigation, and water filtration.

Over the course of co-designing DBC-2, the communities’ vision for the future was clear. A thriving delta is the key to local economic development and improved livelihoods. DBC-2 will provide a critical role in making that a reality.

As a project partner, Pollination is contributing to the structure and design, monetisation (sales and marketing) of carbon offsets, building processes and planning for implementation, legal support, policy support, project financing, and commercial strategy.


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