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Aquaculture certifier branches out to save mangroves

Mangrove forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere, prevent coastal erosion and provide habitat to countless species. Photo: parksandtribes.com
Mangrove forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere, prevent coastal erosion and provide habitat to countless species. Photo: parksandtribes.com

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), which certifies farmed seafood, has expanded its conservation remit by taking an active the preservation of threatened mangrove forests in Ecuador.

It has joined with non-governmental organisation Conservation International and the Ecuadorian government to form the Coastal Habitat Stewardship Fund.

The new fund is taking a novel approach by providing economic incentives to local communities in Ecuador in exchange for conserving mangrove forests in a bid to reverse decades of destruction.

The ASC said the move is a first for any aquaculture certification body and marks a new chapter in the development of its engagement in proactive environmental projects which will complement and run alongside its certification work.

Multiple threats

Socio Manglar, a conservation incentives programme implemented by Ecuador’s government, will oversee the Coastal Habitat Stewardship Fund’s work through financial support to local groups working to enhance mangrove health.

Mangrove forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere, prevent coastal erosion and provide habitat to countless species, but face threats from multiple human activities and industries, the ASC said in a press release. Of these, the clearance of forests for shrimp farming is perhaps the most well-known, though other activities are equally significant such as their use for fuel, construction material and land clearance to make way for hotel development and other tourism activities.

In many cases, the underlying cause is a lack of economic alternatives for local communities, which the new fund aims to tackle.

It is our responsibility to now extend our work to areas complementary to farm certification and this is the first in a number of projects we will undertake.

ASC chief executive Chris Ninnes
Chris Ninnes: ASC has a long-standing commitment to the protection of mangrove forests.
Chris Ninnes: ASC has a long-standing commitment to the protection of mangrove forests.

ASC chief executive Chris Ninnes said: “ASC has a long-standing commitment to the protection of mangrove forests through the stringent requirements in our Shrimp Standard which prohibits deforestation.

“We are dedicated to ensuring that shrimp farming is done responsibly and in a manner that conserves blue carbon ecosystems and supports the communities dependent on them. As the leading certification programme for environmentally and socially responsible farmed seafood, we think it is our responsibility to now extend our work to areas complementary to farm certification and this is the first in a number of projects we will undertake to do so.”

Annual payments

The Coastal Habitat Stewardship Fund aims to have both environmental and socio-economic impacts. Efforts have been made around the world to educate local people about the importance of mangrove forests, however when locals have no alternative means to earn income the areas may be cleared out of economic necessity. In return for voluntarily committing to Socio Manglar’s Sustainable Use and Custody Agreements to protect and maintain mangrove forests, residents are given annual payments as well as access to the forests. The funding from ASC will go towards expanding the scheme and securing its ongoing viability.

Shrimp farming is not solely responsible for the loss of mangrove forests, but poor aquaculture practices can contribute to their depletion, said the ASC. The organisation’s Shrimp Standard bars farms established after 1999 from achieving certification if mangroves were destroyed as a result of their siting and, in some cases, requires the replanting of previously destroyed forests by farms in operations before 1999 as a condition of certification.

A catalyst for others

Ninnes said: “We very much hope that our initial and ongoing commitment to such projects will be a catalyst for other companies engaged with the ASC to also support us in this work.

“As we all face up to the collective challenge of redressing climate impacts the ASC is committed to developing further initiatives to help everyone involved in aquaculture to play their role in doing this. This is why we are developing a number of tools to calculate sector greenhouse gas emissions so that we can better understand the scale of our impacts and the mitigation needed to be carbon neutral. The first of these will be piloted later this year.”

The ASC’s contribution to the Coastal Habitat Stewardship Fund was announced today to coincide with the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem.