Ocean

High stakes issues

The Ocean Programme includes two restoration and conservation projects for the Indonesian coastline, called “Time for the Planet” and made possible with the support of OMEGA

The Raja-Ampat Archipelago (the four kings), West Papua province, Indonesia (0°41’ S - 130°25’ E). © Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Altitude Paris

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Southeast Asia is the richest region of our ocean planet, and one of the most sensitive to human activity. The richness of its ecosystems, which provide the local populations with many environmental, economic and social services, is today under threat.

In 2013, the Ocean Programme established two restoration and conservation projects for the Indonesian coastline. These projects, called “Time for the Planet”, are made possible thanks to the support of OMEGA and the creation of a Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M GMT GoodPlanet watch, part of the proceeds from which go to these field projects.

These initiatives help maintain an exceptional natural heritage, support local economic activities and combat climate change by using the natural capacities for CO2 storage of these ecosystems.

The three central issues on which these projects are based are as follows:

  • Restoring the mangroves through reforestation and by preserving the seagrass
  • Working with the communities and local authorities to consolidate the protection of the coastlines
  • Raising awareness among local stakeholders and young people of the challenges of managing this heritage

 

GoodPlanet Foundation founder Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek explain their commitment for the “Time for the Planet” projects:

Why restore the mangrove forests?

Mango forest on the north of Sulawesi Island, Indonesia © GoodPlanet Foundation
Mango forest on the north of Sulawesi Island, Indonesia © GoodPlanet Foundation

On a global scale, the mangroves, these very special coastal forests with a rich and abundant ecosystem, comprise the most damaged natural habitats of the 20th century:  they have lost a quarter of their surface area, i.e. 3.6 million hectares, in less than 20 years, mainly in Asia. This phenomenon is due to both urbanisation and tourism, which, in the tropics, encourages local communities to transform inhospitable, muddy and mosquito-infested locations into beaches. Finally, the growth of aquaculture is also responsible: the expansion of warm-water prawn farming has contributed to the destruction of the mangroves. The roots of the mangrove trees – trees essential to these ecosystems – are often bulldozed over entire hectares to make room for aquaculture farms…

And yet the mangrove forests are among the most important ecosystems of our oceans!

Reservoirs of nutrients and biodiversity

They are home to an abundant fauna of fish, crabs, prawns and molluscs as well as mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, some of which are under threat of extinction.

Nursery for local fisheries

The young of some commercial species grow in the mangroves and supply local fisheries

Protection of the coastline

The mangroves are natural barriers against erosion caused by wind, waves and currents, reducing the impact of storms and cyclones. Those regions where the mangroves have been sacrificed or harmed by human activity (construction, tourism, agriculture, etc.) are some of those worst affected by the tsunami which reached the coasts of Thailand in December 2004.

Use of the wood

The wood from the mangroves is reputed to be rot-proof and insect-resistant, which makes it a preferred construction material. It is also used as part of the day-to-day fuel supply for local communities.

Supply of goods and services

The mangroves also provide other products and services: tannin extraction, fibres for the textiles industry (rayon), medicinal plants, bark used as condiments, charcoal, fodder, straw, honey, etc.

Natural carbon sinks

Just like land-based forests, the mangroves are able to store carbon using photosynthesis. This storage capacity is estimated to be 6 tonnes per hectare per year.

The value of the goods generated annually by the mangroves is estimated at 186 million dollars. Managed sustainably, productivity would increase, guaranteeing a permanent income for the coastal populations.

 

Why preserve the seagrass?

The vast underwater meadows that exist in most of the world’s oceans are not composed of algae, but of grass, very similar to the land-based plant, hence the name “seagrass”.

Green sea turtle feeding on seagrass, Belize (Brian Skerry)
Green sea turtle feeding on seagrass, Belize
© Brian Skerry

Seagrasses are part of the most diversified ecosystem on the planet and constitute a genuine biodiversity hotspot. Symbolic species like the dugong, the manatee and even the turtle come directly to feed on seagrass leaves: one dugong can eat 40 kilos per day, and the green turtle Chelonia mydas up to 2 kilos.

The seagrass also shelters many species that do not feed directly on the grass. That is the case with several species of adult and juvenile fish (grouper, barracuda, etc.), molluscs (nacres), marine worms, sea urchins, starfish and crabs. Seagrass is also a sanctuary for particularly vulnerable species such as the seahorse. There are about 50 endemic or very dependent species in the posidonia meadows.

Seagrasses are also considered to be ecosystem engineers, in that they model the ecosystem which surrounds them. The leaves of the seagrass retain the sediments and their roots stabilise the seabed, protecting it from erosion. The seagrasses naturally filter the water, producing large quantities of oxygen through photosynthesis and aerating the sediments with their roots.

On a global scale, seagrasses are among the most productive ecosystems, as they store almost 27 million tonnes of carbon per year. Recent studies have shown that, unlike forests, which store carbon mainly in the wood, seagrass meadows store up to 90% in the soil. In the Mediterranean, these meadows have developed a carbon sequestration capacity as far as several metres beneath the surface. Over the centuries, almost 19 billion tonnes of carbon has thus been stored in seagrass.

Like the corals and mangroves, the underwater meadows are particularly fragile ecosystems and extremely vulnerable to threats of human origin from the coasts. They even act as an environmental sentinel bearing witness to the existence of environmental disruption. Studies estimate that 29% of seagrasses have already disappeared, and that this disappearance is continuing at a current rate of 1.5% per year. Pollution, dredging, uprooting caused by anchors, eutrophication, overfishing, desalination and the introduction of species such as Caulerpa taxifolia are also threats that weigh heavily on these crucial ecosystems.

Why Southeast Asia? A rich and threatened region

Southeast Asia, known as the “Coral Triangle”, contains 100,000 square kilometres of coral reefs, i.e. 34% of the world’s reefs. With more than 4 million hectares, Indonesia has the largest area of mangrove forests. Most marine biodiversity is concentrated in this region, which represents less than 1% of the planet’s surface. This area shelters the largest biodiversity of our ocean planet.

The Indonesian mangroves have lost almost 2 million hectares since the 1970s, and this pattern is continuing at a rate of 2% per year. There are many reasons for this disappearance. One-quarter of it is due to the growth of aquaculture. In fact, the explosive growth of aquaculture in Asia (prawns and fish) has led to the creation of a great many breeding farms at the expense of the mangroves. The rest of the deforestation is attributed to agriculture, over-exploitation, coastal erosion and natural disasters.

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