KWALE, Kenya, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) -- A Kenyan community at the coastal region is making steady efforts in preserving mangrove forest critical to mitigating the effects of climate change.
The villagers from Gazi and Makongeni in Kwale County have come together to protect the trees within the Gazi Bay against harvesting for charcoal, firewood, building houses and boats.
Under Mikoko Pamoja Community Organization, the members have an agreement with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to monitor the 117 hectares of the mangrove forest at the Gazi Bay and replenish it annually with 4,000 trees.
Salim Mwarima, the project coordinator says conservation of the mangroves in the coastal has contributed to significant improvements to the ecosystem.
"For the last five years we have seen a great reduction in the cutting of trees," Mwarima said.
"For many years, people used to fell the mangroves haphazardly. They are used here for many purposes with the most common being building houses, making boats and as firewood," he said.
But with the support of Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) and KFS, the organization has managed to educate the people on the importance of participating in conserving the trees.
"For the last 25 years, Kemfri has been doing research on mangrove in this area and have recognized the importance of conserving the trees," he said.
From studies on significance of mangroves to the mitigation of climate change, high loss of the trees results in an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
This is because, they are good absorbers of the carbon dioxide which they store within the biomass and below the roots.
At least 90 percent of the population at Gazi Bay depend on fishing for a livelihood with the mangroves providing breeding grounds for the fish, observed Mwarima.
Ali Zuberi, vice chairman of the organization and a fisherman says the rehabilitated mangroves have significantly reduced erosion of soil into the Gazi Bay waters.
Zuberi who has been fishing for more than two decades also notes an increase in fish capture. He says currently a fisherman can harvest an average of 15 tonnes from previously three.
"When the season picks in October you will see stocks of fish piling up (at the shores of the Gazi Bay) unlike before when you could go for two days and return with nothing. You don't need to go too far right now," he said.
The community has a permission from the KFS to sell carbon credits with the revenue generated going into financing projects benefitting the whole community.
Zuberi said the carbon offset project is paying off to the community who has now become the custodians of protecting the forest from illegal logging.
"In essence, people have become part and parcel of activities championing for the protection of the mangroves against destruction. They are motivated to preserve and conserve the forest since they can see the benefits of it," he said.
"We have stocked schools around here with books and the parents don't need to struggle anymore. They also have access to clean water. And this is all because of the money we are receiving from selling the carbon credits," he said.
Supporting the carbon offset schemes meant to reduce carbon emissions is among the commitments the 193 countries made during the United Nations Convention Framework on Climate Change in Paris, December last year.
Countries have a goal of minimizing temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, a target to be meant by putting forth multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral activities to cut on release of carbon gases into the atmosphere.
According to Nafasi Mfahaya, the KFS ecosystem conservation officer for Kwale County, the community activities are in a great way boosting conservation of the mangroves.
"Involvement of the community in the conservation of the forests is critical to tackling deforestation," she noted.
Further, she said it is a remarkable project that addresses concerns of climate change since the mangroves store high volumes of carbon captured from the atmosphere.
However, despite their efforts of protecting the forest, Zuberi says they are still concerned over unending felling of the trees.
"But we will continue to sensitize the people on the importance of mangroves to the environment to prevent any further extensive deterioration," added Zuberi while noting that clearing of the trees would be a major threat to the survival to the fishing communities at the south coast.