Mangroves flourish where land meets sea, and Thailand’s signature long coastlines are an ideal environment for this unique ecosystem to thrive. The Thai coastline is approximately 3,148km-long, of which 2,055km lines the Gulf of Thailand and 1,093km lies along the Andaman Sea. The Andaman Sea portion is characterised by deep oceanic waters and a rocky continental shelf that’s home to many coral reefs.
On the Gulf coast however, thick mangrove belts protect the coastline. This profile is shallower and there is a combination of mangrove forests, mudflats and sandy beaches. Mangrove forests are home to amazing biodiversity, partly because they provide sea creatures, migratory birds and other animals with nesting and breeding habitats.
Some long-term studies on biodiversity in Thailand revealed that there are some 80 plant, 270 bird and 1,570 insect species within the country’s mangroves.
That’s not all – mangroves physically protect and nourish communities who live in the area. The mangrove system helps arrest shoreline erosion due to damaging storms, waves and floods. Trees and organisms within the mangrove forest filter pollutants to improve water quality. Mangrove trees have also been found to absorb two to four times more carbon dioxide than mature tropical forests.
Having a healthy mangrove ecosystem also supports fisheries and the local communities who are dependent on natural resources like fish, clams and crabs.
THE THREAT OF HUMAN ACTIVITIES AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Unfortunately, mangroves in Thailand are disappearing at an alarming rate. From 1961 to 1996, Thailand was estimated to have lost about 56 per cent of its mangrove forests. They are mainly deforested to make room for shrimp farms and other forms of aquaculture, as well as for wood, which is needed to make charcoal.
According to a study done by the United Nations Environment Programme, the mangroves in Thailand have been valued at an estimated US$3.5 million (S$4.9 million) per sq km per year.
Outside Thailand, mangroves worldwide are threatened by human activities in many ways. Globally, the loss of mangrove forests is three to five times higher than that of terrestrial forests. Since 1980, it is estimated that 20 to 35 per cent of mangrove forests have been lost worldwide.
Besides human action, climate change is also upsetting the ecosystem. Rising sea levels are endangering the health of the mangroves as their chemical balance is altered. Together, unsustainable human activities and climate change will hasten the loss of habitat for wildlife and ultimately, affect the biodiversity within the mangroves.
Additionally, the clearance of mangroves has now left many coastal communities exposed to natural hazards like cyclones and storm surges. Increased flow of salt water is also affecting fresh water supplies.
Fortunately, the country is taking active steps to manage this. The Thai government recognises the importance and benefits of public-private sector partnership in this effort and is taking a holistic approach.
For instance, the Mangroves for the Future initiative promotes investment in coastal ecosystems for sustainable development, and brings together local communities, government agencies and private sector entities. In this way, mangroves are not only regenerated and managed via joint projects but communities are also equipped with knowledge so that they and future generations understand the importance of mangroves and their preservation.
As a sign of how important mangroves are, the government has officially declared May 10 each year as National Mangrove Day. It has also been preparing to nominate Ranong’s mangrove forest area, which contains high biodiversity, as a natural World Heritage Site.
WALKING HAND-IN-HAND WITH THE COMMUNITY
As a socially responsible member of the private sector, MSIG, too, is doing its part. In Eastern Thailand, where the deterioration of the mangroves in Rayong and Chanthaburi has become a crisis, MSIG collaborated with the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources to restore the mangroves through a three-year project.
Before replanting could begin, a series of mangrove clean-ups was done. This was an essential step to help create a conducive environment for the mangrove saplings to grow. Following this, 75 MSIG staff volunteers, 20 locals from the Prasae community in Rayong and 30 locals from the Bangkachai community in Laem Sing, Chanthaburi, joined hands in replanting mangrove saplings.
So far, 21,300 mangrove saplings have been planted and 11.86 acres of mangrove plantation restored. And over 9,000 locals living in and around the mangrove plantation can now be protected from tidal surges, erosion and salt water intrusion. More than 1,000 households that depend on mangrove fisheries as a primary source of income can now benefit from the mangrove plantation. Lastly, but importantly, 82.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide are expected to be absorbed by the restored mangroves per year.
With the support of the local communities and authorities, MSIG hopes to rehabilitate and ensure the survival and growth of the mangroves by maintaining and planting more mangrove trees over the next two years.
MSIG has been advocating the importance of protecting biodiversity for a sustainable future. From the comprehensive greening of company headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, to raising awareness via an interactive Biodiversity Trail in Singapore, the company aims to do its part in protecting biodiversity, not just for the future of the planet, but for ourselves and the generations to come.
Read more about MSIG's biodiversity initiatives in the region.