Mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, saltwater marshes – these and other ‘blue forests’ are vital to coastal and island communities around the world
The countries where Blue Forest Projects are located are illustrative of the pressures mangroves are facing globally. Some countries like Mozambique, Kenya, and Madagascar are experiencing declines in mangroves due to logging, overexploitation, clear cutting, degradation, and conversion of land use. Ecuador’s mangroves have been under pressure from shrimp aquaculture, one of the country’s biggest exports, and coastal development. Abu Dhabi is in the process of active mangrove creation to improve carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services. Indonesia has lost nearly half their mangroves due to development and aquaculture is becoming a substantial source of carbon emissions.
This page provides presents lessons and recommendations that have been gathered through a series of interviews conducted with the project managers of the Blue Forests Project, divided by pathways (Ecosystems, Economy, Policy, and Communities). The topics covered in the lessons learned ranged from project process and formation to replicating and scaling up for the future. Several SSIs are focused on carbon financing pathways to improve communities’ well-being through mangrove restoration, while others are focused on changing the policy conversation about ecosystem services and blue carbon at the national scale. The diversity of project structures offers many paths to unlock the values associated with carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services of mangroves.
Lessons Learned: Community Engagement
Understand the dynamics of the community: Local communities are not homogeneous and within the same community there are conflicting ideas and values. People derive many different benefits and livelihoods from the same area and the ways people value mangroves is not the same across regions or communities. To successfully accomplish the projects goals you must meet people where they are. An important lesson is learning how to listen! You can do this by conducting listening surveys and facilitating town meetings. Ask what is your life like, what is easy in your village, what is the social context, do you need support, how can we support you? Project success is improved by sustainable management and secure livelihoods. Taking the time to listen also helps you understand the ways that people value and use the mangroves at their location, the community knows and understands their world better than you ever can. Listening can also determine the level of understanding of mangrove Ecosystem Services (ES) of the community. In some projects the community understands the ES of mangroves but are lacking financial security and need assistance in capacity building to work with the government or implementing management strategies to improve these ES. In other locations, understanding and connecting how loss of mangroves correlates to loss of fisheries is lacking. Meet the community where they are and then approach the project so it addresses both their needs and achieves the environmental change you are trying for.
Empower communities: Give communities the right context to enact informed management. Engage and give responsibility to core communities from the beginning in a real way. Involve them in the development, implementation and monitoring of the project. Summarize the values and threats to mangroves in the past, happening now, and moving forward in time. Work with the community to educate and make possible taking the best actions to address these threats and improve these values. This allows the community to take in the whole picture and see what they can do, how they can be involved. When new policies and laws are put in place to implement national GHG targets or to comply with a national strategy it can adversely impact community behavior. Recognize that even good laws will negatively impact someone and try to mitigate those impacts. Be inclusive and bring enough people together and familiar with the projects intended goals, methods and outcomes to encourage buy-in and adoption of new habits.
Make outcomes tangible: Many concepts such as carbon markets to combat global climate change are not tangible to people. Trading fish or harvesting timber with someone in your village is a clear value trade. It is harder to understand the value of carbon stored in soil for a person or company living or based across the globe. It is also difficult for some to make the connection that soil cores and the calculation of carbon stocks will translate to the restoration of the local mangrove fishery in five years. To improve understanding between local and global action, as well as the different timeframes involved, formulate your project to have benefits you can touch and see. Ensure your benefit-sharing schemes includes the use of carbon finance to also fund schools, water pipes, and providing access to doctors, beyond other obligations and project costs. These tangible benefits will help people see the value of the project and the work you are doing. By providing these benefits you incentivize local participation in the project and improve long-term sustainability. Non-carbon ecosystem services usually benefit the local community more directly. Enhancing these ecosystem services will automatically support and benefit the carbon management and financing aspect. Communicating these benefits can make the carbon pathway more tangible.
Identify and support a local champion: Create the opportunity to build local capacity in different fields, from data collection to project management and organization. Find your local champion, and encourage that leadership. The local champion can liaise between the community, government and the science and technical community. They can help create transparency from the beginning. The local champion will inspire people to attend meetings, workshops and engage in meaningful conversation around the project. Allocate the resources to develop this person, get them through the full cycle of mangrove management, community mobilization, and carbon monitoring. This increased community engagement will help your project gain local buy in and improve the local level of understanding of mangrove ecosystem services.
Give opportunities to people: If your project eliminates a livelihood, help train and build the environment to support alternative livelihoods. For example, if your project limits the harvesting of mangroves to improve carbon stocks, help the person whose livelihood depends on harvesting access alternative resources (e.g. alternative fuels) and/or – where the activity had a commercial character –develop a new skill. Perhaps working as forest patrol ensuring the mangroves are not illegally harvested or in data collection monitoring the carbon stocks in soil. Help develop a new alternative industry to replace the lost one, for example, improving market links for increasing distribution of honey from beekeeping or infrastructure improvement to develop ecotourism in the region.
Make the intervention their own: When replicating or scaling up a project, make a point of branding with the individual communities. If you use a brand from another location it can be interpreted as another village or outside organization coming to manage them. Giving the community project a name and a brand will allow people to take pride in the project. When you take pride in something this will increase the accountability and the buy-in from the local community. When this is done successfully, they will take ownership of the project and this will increase long-term success. This success will spread across the region and the next project will be welcomed because neighboring communities will want to participate.
Increase capacities, supported by local knowledge from communities living near mangroves: Consult communities that live with mangroves, seagrass or tidal marsh areas, by asking them and getting them involved in the conversation, trainings and exchange of information. Unified communities with strong visionary leadership in which common strengths are identified in order to create networks of knowledge exchange. These networks at the local level can be integrated or feed into global networks such as UNFCC. Create spaces and opportunities for exchange and dialogue, for which the barriers that have to be overcome are language and the loss of revenue opportunity in local communities. Empower communities while addressing mistrust and skepticism regarding blue carbon projects, in order to increase the level of understanding surrounding possible interventions and enable advocacy where locals can act as agents of communication.
Identify the population that use the blue forests: hotels, people who depend on subsistence fishing, and others, and analyze their access to existing community networks in order to then make a further analysis regarding existing mechanisms for community participation, if there are any. After these important factors have been identified, the linkages between networks must be done with the appropriate language, finding common ground or a boundary object such as the concept of ecosystem services: one where there can be common understanding between two parts even when talking at two different levels. Once the link has been established several areas must be approached in order for local community, such as access to knowledge to help them understand benefits, opportunities and rights regarding blue forest, as well as access to diverse income generating actions.
Link information with the corresponding organizations and seek the necessary technical assistance: In addition to looking for other economic alternatives besides the sale of blue carbon, to control over-exploitation and teach communities that there are other means of income without the need to clear the forests. For this, it is essential to maintain a constant link and dialogue with the community networks and thus provide a correct training and application of capabilities in resource use.
Frame messages in a positive way: Talk about the dependence of communities and populations on the ecosystems, while at the same time providing concrete numbers, giving value to the services that blue forests provide. A clear way to to this is with the occurrence of natural disasters and their effects on communities, as well as providing examples of how fisheries that are dependent on mangroves can be affected by deforestation. By giving value to coastal ecosystems that goes beyond and economic model, there are more opportunities to integrate the blue carbon projects into public policies and planning.
Listen. Then communicate: Listening early and listening often is critical to addressing the needs of communities and decision-makers. Take information and give it back to them to make sure it is in a format they want and can use. Taking into account information people provide and showing that you are hearing them and addressing their needs and concerns will go a long way in generating support and sustainability of the project from the beginning.
Create a plan for communication across scales: Topics of discussion at the national level are quite often different than topics of discussion at the local level. When working with the government and decision-makers you might be introducing the concept of ecosystem services and blue carbon or providing national or international context. When working with the community you will need to address the on-the-ground goals of the project and how the project will improve or impact their lives. These communication materials are not the same. Develop a baseline of communication strategies and goals for all scales.
Develop communication materials early, often and in many forms: There is no one way to communicate the values associated with mangroves and there are many paths to make the message land. In some locations the best way to communicate is via a community board in the center of the village. So, engage a local leader to help keep that community board up to date with a calendar of events and to communicate project progress. Share when the next meeting is and what the opportunities are for people to get involved. If you make a video of people dancing in the mangroves expressing their spiritual connection to this environment share it! Make an edible postcard that is unique and will stick in people’s minds. If there is an opportunity to put on a puppet show in a local community put on the puppet show, then share pictures on your website and blog. Pictures are a powerful form of communication, and the money hiring a photographer and capturing the story behind the photos will be worthwhile. Create lots of infographics, postcards, meetings, and allow for peer review by stakeholders. Showing all the ways people connect to mangroves can later help to translate the benefits of mangroves into funding and conservation support.
Have a funded stream for communications: Infographics, flyers, postcards, reports take time to craft and produce. Having a dedicated person to help make and update these materials will keep people engaged. If you are part of an international organization and are relying on communications assistance from headquarters you can face bottlenecks in getting materials. If your project is targeted to decision-makers at the national level communication to the local community will fall to the end of the project. This will create missed opportunities. Conversely if you focus on communicating locally and need to approach the national government or a coastal planner you might not have the time to create appropriate materials. Having a dedicated person that can strategize and manage your communication materials across scales and across the project timeline will improve the project outcome on multiple levels.
Convey information in a way people need it, and can relate to: Information needs to be accessible. Target the audience. Talking points change by audience and taking the time to craft your communication strategy for each audience will help the message be heard. Once you establish the geography of the project, bring in all the stakeholders from across different sectors (fisherman, rangers, hotels, investors, and data providers) and convey information in way people need. When choosing the right communication product, it is important to take into account the target audience benefiting from your intervention, including the metrics that are the most suitable for this audience. It is also vital to take into consideration the current awareness and understanding of the assessed blue forest ecosystem service. Ideally, decision-makers should be engaged in as many stages of the ecosystem service assessment result production and interpretation. Come to decision-makers with solutions. This can help them support the decisions that support the project. Language translating can be a costly issue but if you give government materials not in their language, they don’t embrace it. If you are working with scientists and universities English is the standard.
Communication takes time: Many of the concepts translating the values of mangroves are complex. The first, second or third time people hear it they might not understand. However, over time this can evolve from understanding basic concepts to knowing information to taking information to the next level. It will take time to educate and get information into useful language. There is also a lot of time when you work with agencies and many different stakeholders spent on review. It takes time to respond to questions and address concerns. It is important when developing your communication strategy to create enough communication opportunities and allow enough time to find success. Projects found success within both decision-makers and communities knowing and expecting ecosystem services and blue carbon and mangroves to be a part of the conversation by continuing to show up and to reach out and communicate.
Take a field trip, bring a decision-maker: When determining how to best use your time there are often tradeoffs. For example, you can spend an entire day trying to get a 15-minute meeting with a minister or official or you can spend an entire day gathering data in the field. It can be hard to determine which use of time will have the most impact. However, there are some uses of time that can be guaranteed to communicate both the threats and the benefits of mangroves. Getting out into mangroves can do more to communicate with a decision-maker than meetings and presentations. Taking the officials into the field can show the impact of deforestation or connect them with the community that lives and benefits from these mangroves. This tangible connection to the threats and values of mangroves can communicate the project structure and goals better than any presentation or meeting.
Make the most of networks: Once results have been effectively synthetized, these need to be shared with the wider marine and coastal community, for example using online databases. It is also critical for any communication efforts to consider windows of opportunity. These include the current political motivations, such as impending legislation and investment decisions. Results can be disseminated using various options, including websites, social and other media, launch events, workshops and other meetings. Engage with and s share experiences with networks of experts and stakeholders at local, regional and international levels, as needed. Support the development of networks within the project, for example gathering women to discuss their role in mangroves and create alliances. International networks and dialogues can create combined solutions. International communities and networks for the blue carbon community can be powerful allies for building capacity, upscaling and replicating project impacts.
Integrate local communities: Long-term sustainability will always require close integration of local communities. Communities can act as stewards and guardians of the ecosystems, and interventions are most resilient if communities are enabled to manage nature-based solutions from conceptualization to implementation. Local business should be included and/or build depending on the needs and capacities of the project.
Lessons Learned: Blue Forests Ecosystems
Support local knowledge transfer and increase local capacities: It is crucial to increase capacities, supported by local knowledge from communities living near mangroves, seagrass or tidal marsh areas, by asking them and getting them involved in the conversation, trainings and exchange of information. Facilitate unified communities with strong visionary leadership in which common strengths are identified in order to create networks of knowledge exchange. These networks at the local level can be integrated or feed into global networks such as UNFCC. Second, the creation of spaces and opportunities for exchange and dialogue, for which the barriers that have to be overcome are language and the loss of revenue opportunity in local communities. Finally, the need to empower communities while addressing mistrust and skepticism regarding blue carbon projects, in order to increase the level of understanding surrounding possible interventions and enable advocacy where locals can act as agents of communication.
Link science and policy data: Promote policy-oriented and applied research in addition to academic science driven by the need for publications. Any project intervention must be planned and developed on the basis of a robust analysis of drivers of loss and degradation and be described against a thorough regulatory analysis for the location/country concerned. While there are patterns of loss and degradation at work in a wide range of countries, there are also clear differences, which must be identified before outlining a particular policy instrument or pathway. Where possible apply standardized methodologies. A common framework for collection and reporting of data facilitates comparison within a country and between countries. Align methods to support the integration of data into national programs, for example compilation of greenhouse gas inventories. Blue carbon and wider ecosystem services projects are part of an emerging field and applying standard methods will foster project credibility and accelerate project delivery.
Balance the amount of data with the cost of data: Data collection is expensive and time consuming. It is important to have a focused workplan that sets out a clear path to an achievable goal with a deliverable product. Data gaps will exist. Learn how to work around them. Identify the priority information to go after. Be cautious about applying data from distant locations, particularly related to financial values. Data and papers can also be trapped behind a paywall. Leverage what you can access, email the authors of papers for copies. They will often be thrilled to share their work and interested in the people that are using it. Look to local volunteer organizations for help in gathering your own data. Use the internet to access the newest technologies and connect with the international community.
Work with universities: Use local universities as research partners. Often many departments are doing similar research or can be easily aligned with the project goals and outcomes. This connection will also produce local graduate students that will have expertise and able to work in the field.
Build local capacity: but stay connected to international scientific community. Build knowledge, experience and infrastructure within local agencies and academic institutions. Be strategic in engaging external expertise. When gathering data in country or building agency capacity there will be questions about which methods to use and tradeoffs in determining best practices.
Lessons Learned: Blue Forests Economy Opportunities
Plan your interventions with long-term financial viability options in mind: Many initiatives are kick-started with grant funding from national or international sources. From day 1 of conceptualization, gauge the options for securing long-term continuity of the project, potentially via a blended finance approach, combining different funding and finance sources, from public to private.
Scope your asset: Blue forests represent blue natural capital, as they generate substantial value through the provision of goods such as food, water and resources, as well as services such as climate regulation, pollination, disaster protection, and nutrient cycling. Assess the portfolio of services, the particular providers, and the beneficiaries.
Design nature-based solutions: Creating or restoring blue spaces in and around cities, for example, can increase tourism revenues, provide recreational opportunities for citizens, and help lower pollution levels in urban areas. Conserving mangroves secures nurseries for numerous marine species thereby enhancing fish stocks and livelihoods for coastal communities. Design your intervention in close interaction with these nature-based solutions. Focus on the synergies between conservation/restoration, on the one hand, and service to the community, on the other.
Develop revenue streams from nature-based solutions: Identify the scope of direct beneficiaries and assess the societal value at large. Utilities benefit from clean water services. Tourism providers benefit from clean beaches and recreational habitats. The fishing industry values robust fish stocks. Payment schemes can be established on a voluntary basis or through regulatory involvement. Engage governments at all levels – local, regional and national – to explore long-term regulatory mechanisms. Other services – such as protection against flooding and storms or benefits for biodiversity – have a clear societal benefit, though the identification of individual beneficiaries is more difficult. In these cases, tax-based solutions may be found in the long-term.
Design tailored investment components: Even in the absence of collective payment-for-ecosystem services (PES) schemes, long-term revenue streams can be identified and tapped into through the integration of supplementary investment components such asclimate change adaptation and mitigation finance available to most wetland conservation and restoration activities in developing countries. Funds may come from REDD+ programs, NAMAs or voluntary carbon projects. Carbon projects, in particular, though consuming in terms of time, labor and cash early in the process, present ways to secure steady finance for 20 years and more. This said, make sure to give an honest assessment of the accessibility of climate finance concerning time, complexity of preparations and risks. Do not rely exclusively on climate finance for any intervention.
Understanding and using international policies: As laid out with more detail in the GEF Blue Forest funded policy paper Pathways for implementation of blue carbon initiatives (Herr et al., 2017), the flexible instruments of Art 6 of the Paris Agreement (PA) may develop a strong bearing on blue carbon ecosystems. Eventually, all three mechanisms – the cooperative approaches of Article 6.2 PA, the sustainable development mechanism of Article 6.4 PA and the non-market approaches of Article 6.8 PA may provide important incentives for blue carbon activities. While policy negotiations are ongoing with firm results, it is expected that each of them will put particular attention to cross-cutting, resilience-improving intervention formats.
Build institutional continuity: Any intervention of some complexity requires the existence of a strong institution to steer and control action. It is important that such an institution, if it does not yet exist at the beginning of an intervention, is put in place at the earliest possible moment. A short-term structure will not secure long-term governance or bankability.
Lessons Learned: Policy and Management Approaches
Emphasize the local level: The local level must always be emphasized, even when communicating information at the national level, as it its important to provide both sides of the story and the different ways it can have a direct or indirect effect on people. As a result, there is a need to link local interventions to the global level.
Identify interlocutors and focal points to design and accompany action: Blue forests habitats are elusive for policymakers and institutional agents. Situated at the interface between land and sea, they often fall outside the scope of any particular legal or administrative remit and/or are subject to overlapping jurisdictions. Also, their relevance in terms of ecosystem services, climate change adaptation and mitigation action are little understood. For any intervention, seek interlocutors within administrations and the government, educate and enhance responsibility.
Look for natural alignment with existing programs and the government: Try to align activities with programs that already have financial, political, or scientific support. Align across scales (local, national, international) so projects are easier to scale up or gather data and information for. When designing project parameters look at national policies or local programs that are being developed. Try to inform or influence if there is not ability to align. If information and tools are given to decision-makers in a format that they can work with, you can build the foundation for future partnerships and projects. Building the foundation by building influence and increasing awareness can lay the path forward to replicate or scale up in the future.
Build government capacity: Sometimes finding the finances and the people to help monitor or enforce laws can be challenging. If a project structure can help communities support their government by either providing financial assistance or manpower to improve monitoring, you can help improve local governance. This in turn will help in the long-term sustainability. If you are working in an area that is looking for coastal development and planning, help support the local government agency staff by sharing the information gathered in your project, this can help get mangroves and blue carbon incorporated into local coastal planning.
Leaders will change, leaders will change their minds, work with people working in government long term: Decision-makers change so be prepared to keep renewing discussions. Building knowledge within career agency staff can help maintain institutional memory. This knowledge can help maintain continuity during times of transitions in leadership or transitions in jurisdictional control. Ensure long term buy-in by continuing to inform and support decision makers and keeping the conversation going.
Don’t take progress and legislation for granted: Recognize that there will be setbacks but maintain communication and adjust to align with government priorities if possible. Preserve and maintain a record of progress. Identify policy goals that decision-makers can follow. Be flexible, adjust discussion points as necessary. The GEF Blue Forests Project, primarily through the work done by IUCN, continuously engaged at the UNFCCC to ensure that the carbon angle of coastal ecosystems management be consistently and comprehensively included in relevant mechanisms and schemes. The UNFCCC offers an important platform to develop targeted intervention and finance tools. However, shaping new policies and instruments requires perseverance and patience over multiple years, as the history of REDD+ has shown. Furthermore, climate change instruments may not address adequately all of the ecosystems services provided by coastal ecosystems outside mitigation and adaptation impacts. There are other important multinational environmental agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and and the Ramsar Convention which add layers of recognition and sets tailored mechanisms to protect and restore habitats.
Build on existing systems and approaches to ease policy uptake: While any international process can be improved and strengthened, every international mechanism also has its limitations. The goal behind many trying to include coastal blue carbon into the UNFCCC was to ensure climate mitigation policies and financial incentive mechanisms could also be applied to coastal ecosystems management. But one has to be aware of the limitations or boundaries of any such international scheme. The UNFCCC focuses on long-term, anthropogenically induced carbon sinks and sources, and promotes the “sustainable management, and promote and cooperate in the conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases, including biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems” (UNFCCC Art 4.1(d). With oceans clearly recognized, the Convention, and now the Paris Agreement with its NDC architecture, allow to focus on a wide set of actions designed to protect and enhance coastal habitats Notably, any ‘turn’ to coastal carbon is conceived as a natural extension of established mitigation approaches towards land-based GHG emissions and removals. Any policy frameworks – at least at this stage of international policymaking – will be jurisdiction-based in nature (excluding from view any GHG emissions and sinks from areas beyond national jurisdictions and territorial waters) and they will limit themselves to explicit boundaries with fixed soil and vegetation types (to the exclusion of moving flora and fauna).
Provide robust scientific understanding to support policy development: When blue carbon started to make its way into the UNFCCC (around 2010), few understood, and many still do not understand, what stands behind it, namely the opportunity to reduce and enhance emissions from hitherto overlooked, massively important and ubiquitous habitat types Stakeholders were keen to explore component after component and to start designing climate mitigation strategies to address a wide set of coastal and marine systems, including coral reefs, phytoplankton, kelp forests, and marine fauna. While such debates are clearly needed in the technical realm, they can dilute the progress in policy fora.
Seasoned experts argued for consolidation and incremental changes. Rather than rushing to open the scope of blue carbon even further and rather than trying to develop or impose a new mechanism (e.g. “Blue REDD”), they worked on a step-by-step approach to include coastal carbon systems into the UNFCCC. This approach required a lot of technical, detailed understanding and work in different streams of the UNFCCC, but ultimately set the foundation for a more successful and well-founded uptake by countries in the long-term. A major success was first the adoption by the IPCC of a Wetland Supplement, which allowed countries for the first time to accurately track and report their GHG emissions and removals from coastal carbon ecosystems into their GHG national accounts (IPCC 2014), followed, in 2018, by the recommendation of the governing body of the Paris Agreement to Parties to use it in its inventories and NDCs (Decision 18/CMA.1).Building on the IPCC work which focuses on mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrasses for climate mitigation, country-specific scientific research was developed by the GEF Blue Forests Project, and other platforms such as the with the International Blue Carbon Scientific Working Group deepen the understanding of the mitigation impact of changes to coastal ecosystems and options to better conserve and restore them.
Showcase real project activities: Given the initial doubt in the science, as well as the implementation of “blue carbon” on the national as well as project level, the GEF Blue Forests Project worked intensively with different stakeholders, and primarily with its country and project sites’ partners and brought their work to an international stage. Showing the opportunity, but as well the hurdles of implementing blue carbon policy and projects made the efforts “real”, and not just a conceptual construct. Continuing doing so will be vital to raise the awareness of this topic at the UNFCCC, and provide details to decision-makers unfamiliar with the topic.