4 September 2023

Saudi Arabia also bets on mangroves

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The Kingdom plans to plant 50 to 100 million mangroves “in the coming years.” An initiative to protect biodiversity that once again highlights the key role of this plant species in mitigating climate and contributing to soil protection

by Matteo Cavallito

 

Saudi Arabia seeks to plant tens of millions of mangroves by 2030 with the aim of preserving the biodiversity of its territory. Al Arabiya reports.  Number of plants involved is not yet clear: 50 million according to the UAE broadcaster, as many as 100 million according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the official government news agency. In any case, the choice of plant species is not surprising.

“The power of mangrove forests to store carbon, manage flooding and stabilize coastlines, and provide shelter for fish and other organisms, makes them one of nature’s super ecosystems,” said John Pagano, CEO of Red Sea Global, the company controlled by Riyadh’s sovereign wealth fund and responsible for the project, quoted by Al Arabiya. The nursery that has already been built, he added, “will increase the numbers of mangroves and boost biodiversity, ensuring we reach the environmental ambitions we have set ourselves.”

An exception in the arid Saudi environment

At the moment, the news agency again points out, the trees planted so far – along the Red Sea and Persian Gulf coasts – total about 6 million. The final number – the aforementioned 50 or 100 million – should be reached “during the coming years.” So far, no firm date. has been set.

Mangroves, UNESCO noted, are a particular exception in the limited Saudi plant landscape. In areas close to the sea, in fact, the UN agency notes, mangroves spread easily, ensuring wide coverage over the land.

In Saudi Arabia, areas where these plants are present represent a total area of 204 square kilometers and are established as natural habitats for migratory birds and factors in maintaining food security and fish abundance. These areas also help to rid beaches of pollutants and reduce temperatures and humidity locally.

A resource for climate, biodiversity and soil

The Saudi initiative is not an isolated effort. Indeed, there are further examples around the world of the use of mangroves in environmental restoration and protection processes. These plants, in fact, are characterized by exceptional carbon sequestration capacity with obvious positive impacts on climate mitigation and soil health.

According to a report by the NGO Global Mangrove Alliance, in this way mangroves on the Planet would be able to prevent total emissions of more than 21 billion tons of CO2.

Mangroves also “act as permeable dams dampening storm surges.” According to estimates, the Global Alliance further highlights, these trees are able, in this sense, to prevent more than $65 billion in damage annually by reducing flood risk in territories inhabited by some 15 million people.

At the end of the last century, the world lost a third of its mangroves.

The problem, however, is that these habitats are at risk. Between 1980 and 2000, in fact, says the U.S. think tank One Earth, the world lost about 35 percent of its mangroves. During the 21st century the situation has improved and to date, Global Mangrove Alliance explains, 42 percent of the mangroves are in protected areas.

Despite this, however, between 1996 and 2016 the Planet experienced a net loss of these trees of 4.3 percent. As if to say that the rate of regrowth has not been sufficient to compensate for the losses.

Also according to the report, 60 percent of the losses are related to human activities (deforestation, first and foremost). The rest, of course, is the result of nature’s action on which, however, climate change also affects. Rising sea levels, in particular, pose a threat to mangroves, which under such circumstances are literally swallowed by the waters.