26 July is the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem. This day was designated by UNESCO to raise awareness on the importance of the mangrove ecosystem as well as promote solutions for its conservation.
Did you know in the 1820s, 13 percent of Singapore’s total land was made up of mangroves? Now, only 0.5 percent remains. In order to protect and restore our local mangroves, National Parks Board (NParks) uses nature-based solutions to build the resilience of Singapore coast. This effort has been going on since 2010 when the coastal protection and mangrove restoration project was implemented.
In this edition of ISTS Ask, we interviewed Assoc Prof Daniel Friess, a multi-disciplinary coastal geographer, to learn more about the importance of mangrove conservation! He is actively involved in the mangrove restoration project in Ubin and works alongside Restore Ubin Mangrove (R.U.M.) Initiative to research and increase the awareness on mangrove conservation.
1. What made you interested in studying mangroves?
I was interested to study mangroves because of how unique they are. So few tree species around the world are able to survive in the sea, but mangroves can! They’ve had to evolve special ways of surviving in these conditions over tens of millions of years. Mangroves are also very understudied compared to other coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, so there is still a lot more for us to learn about them.
2. Why is mangrove conservation important for our environment?
Mangroves are really important to people – coastal communities throughout the tropics rely on them as a source of food, protection and livelihood. They provide everything from fisheries to pharmaceuticals, they protect our shorelines from waves and storms, clean our waters and trap our pollutants in their soils, and much more. And the best thing about mangroves is that they provide all of this to us for free!
3. What is blue carbon and its significance to climate change?
“Blue carbon” refers to our greenhouse gas emissions that are sucked out of the air by coastal ecosystems (particularly mangroves and seagrasses) during photosynthesis, and stored primarily in their soils. Blue carbon ecosystems are much more effective at doing this than many other types of forest, because their soils are waterlogged. This means that any leaves and branches that fall onto the soil don’t get broken down by microbes, but instead are deposited and accumulate in the soil. This traps our greenhouse gas emissions in the ground for thousands of years.
Photo source: National University Singapore
3. In your documentary with CNA, you mentioned that the Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative is an interdisciplinary project. How has it been like working with a diverse group of people in this project?
Working with members of the Restore Ubin Mangroves (RUM) Initiative has been one of the highlights of my career. We all come from different backgrounds – academic researchers, nature enthusiasts, fish farmers and Ubin residents. It has been a real joy to work closely with these different partners and to learn from them about mangroves and their importance. It is great to see people from all different backgrounds and experiences come together around the restoration of mangroves.
4. How can Singaporeans actively help to conserve the mangroves we have?
There are lots of ways to get involved, from mangrove plantings to coastal clean-ups. But perhaps the best thing to do is just learn about mangroves, and share what you learn with your friends and family. We need to share with people why this ecosystem is so important, so that many more people will understand them and want to protect them.
5. What is one interesting fact that you would like people to know about the mangroves in Singapore?
We have 35 mangrove tree species in Singapore – more than half of all those found in the world!