~Earthwatch announces five-year research programme into carbon storage of tropical mangrove ecosystems~

Mangrove forests could be a secret weapon in the fight against climate change, according to scientists from Earthwatch. Earthwatch today announces a new five-year research programme into the potential of mangrove forests to store carbon and reduce the impacts of climate change.

The research, which is supported by insurance company Aviva, builds on the findings of Earthwatch scientists Dr Mark Huxham, of Edinburgh Napier University, and Dr James Kairo, who, with support from Earthwatch, have been working in Gazi Bay, in the Kwale district of Kenya, for the past four years.

"Mangroves have a vital role to play in reducing the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events," Nat Spring, Earthwatch's Senior Research Director explains. "They also have huge potential to store carbon in their root systems. This research project is very significant. We aim to provide robust biological and economic data on the role of mangrove forests in carbon storage."

Climate change is the biggest environmental challenge that we face. Building on our understanding of the impacts of climate change on our natural environment, and how we can minimise those impacts, is a research priority for Earthwatch. For insurance companies like Aviva, damage to human habitations and livelihoods through extreme weather events will become an increasingly serious risk.

Louella Eastman, Aviva ‘s Corporate Responsibility Director says "We're delighted to strengthen our relationship with Earthwatch by supporting this valuable piece of research into natural solutions to help address climate change. Climate change is Aviva's most pressing environmental priority - as an insurer we understand only too well the human and economic cost of floods, storms and extreme weather. This research supports our commitment to provide carbon finance in Africa - something we believe is urgently needed. The research also complements the work we've been doing for a number of years to minimise our own carbon emissions - in 2008 our emissions reduced by 6.6%."

The project will quantify, and put an economic value on, the carbon storage capacity of mangrove plantations. It will inform decisions on how to best manage mangrove forests to maximise their carbon storage potential and provide sustainable harvests, and will demonstrate how community-run plantations could generate payment for mangrove carbon credits in the future. In addition, Aviva employees will have the opportunity to learn first-hand about these fascinating ecosystems and contribute to the research by working alongside Earthwatch scientists in the field.

Nat Spring adds: "Mangroves are tropical trees that grow in saline, inter-tidal areas. The soils where they grow are permanently water-logged, and mangroves deposit up to half their total carbon as roots, which may remain after cutting or death and contribute to permanent peat deposits. Since mangroves grow in areas that cannot be colonised by other species or used for agriculture, they do not displace native plants or food crops."

Mangrove forests provide a range of vital ecosystem and community services including combating the effects of rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding. They also provide nurseries and breeding grounds for fish, and sustainable timber products, if managed appropriately.

Stopping the ongoing loss and degradation of mangrove forests is an international conservation priority which was recognised with the launch of ‘Mangroves for the Future' (www.mangrovesforthefuture.org) by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in 2007. Earthwatch is currently in discussion about future collaboration in the initiative.