The First Meeting of the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihood Action Group (MELAG) Under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, was held from 7 to 9 October 2019 in Negombo, Sri Lanka.
During the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting 2018 held in London, realizing the importance of mangroves, at a time when Sri Lanka is ranked as No. 2 in the Global Climate Risk Index, Sri Lanka committed to champion the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group (MELAG) of the Commonwealth Blue Charter. Sri Lanka is one of 12 countries that stepped forward to lead nine ‘Action Groups’ under the Blue Charter – a commitment made by the 53 Commonwealth member states to work together to solve ocean-related problems. ‘Champion’ countries of the Commonwealth Blue Charter are laying the groundwork for joint action and robust, innovative strategies to tackle the world’s most pressing ocean issues.
As of August 2019, Sri Lanka has been joined by eight other Commonwealth countries, namely Australia, Bangladesh, Vanuatu, Bahamas, Nigeria, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and United Kingdom. MELAG aims to share best practice and expand mutual cooperation in the conservation and sustainable utilization of mangroves and aims to develop a basic database of mangrove ecosystems in the Commonwealth including categories of ownership and species diversity, share technical know-how and best practice on the restoration of mangroves and the value of mangrove ecosystems to coastal livelihoods, strengthen community partnerships relating to mangrove ecosystems and develop strategies to strengthen legal frameworks for the conservation of mangroves.
Mangroves are among the most rare and threatened ecosystems today. More than a third of the world’s mangrove forests have disappeared in the last two decades. Mangroves provide multiple benefits that are important to mankind. This includes the absorption and sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, provides a habitat for many species of plants and animals, nursery grounds for many fauna, including species important for fisheries and it prevents coastal erosion and mitigates adverse impacts of climate change. Further, most significantly, the carbon sequestration ability of mangrove ecosystems is, on average, 3 to 4 times higher than tropical upland forests. It is therefore, amply evident that mangroves make an immense contribution to our planet’s sustenance, livelihood enhancement, carbon sinks and climate change impact and disaster mitigation.
Inaugurating the Meeting, Mr. Ahmed A Jawad, Actg. Secretary of Foreign Affairs emphasized that “We are entering an era where the very survival of humanity depends on our action. Planet earth depends upon us to make the right choices now. By taking steps to uphold the spirit of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, by ensuring that the Commonwealth takes a fair, equitable, inclusive and sustainable approach to ocean economic development and protection, we can derive greater benefits for the welfare of our people and future generations”. Given these circumstances, he further emphasized that a coordinated approach and a well concerted effort to achieve the full potential is essential and that we have the unique opportunity to contribute to a process, towards a sustainable future, for our future generations.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr. Mapa Pathirana, Actg. Secretary of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment highlighted efforts already taken by Sri Lanka to preserve and restore mangrove habitats. Mr. Pathirana further emphasized the various steps the Ministry has initiated in that direction, including designing and implementation of a robust mangrove restoration program in collaboration with stakeholders, especially after Sri Lanka took the responsibility to champion the initiative on mangroves. Among key achievements are establishment of a Special Task Force for Mangrove Restoration, drafting a dedicated National Policy and Guidelines on conservation and sustainable utilization of mangrove ecosystems, and pursuing a special cabinet decision aiming at preventing conversion of mangrove areas to other land uses.
The three day event was mainly focused on identifying current status, best practices and failures, gaps in achieving sustainable mangrove ecosystems that supports livelihoods of coastal communities in the participating countries, while comparing the strengths and weaknesses across the different regions of the world. Giving due recognition for stakeholder engagement at all levels, some of the Sri Lankan private sector and community based organizations involved in mangrove restoration activities were invited to make presentations to share their expertise and experiences. Further, the Terms of Reference was finalized and interactive sessions contributed to synthesis information needed to draft the Action Plan.
Mangrove Replanting by a participant during the Field Visit
Sessions were facilitated by Adviser for Commonwealth Blue Charter of the Commonwealth Secretariat Heidi Prislan, Principal Research Scientist of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia Dr. Mat Vanderklift and Director General, Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ms. Hasanthi Urugodawatte Dissanayake. The Sri Lankan participants included officials responsible for mangrove conservation and restoration activities from the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment and academic experts on mangroves.
Deliberations were limited to two days with a one-day field visit to Seacology - Sudeesa Mangrove Museum, world’s first mangrove museum, mangrove nurseries and mangrove replanted sites under the care of the Forest Department. Further, visits were made to degraded mangrove sites (abandoned shrimp farms) and pristine mangrove sites. The delegates also joined in re-planting of saplings of a mangrove species in Kalpitiya.
Group Discussion during the Meeting led by Director General, Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ms. Hasanthi Urugodawatte Dissanayake
This meeting also was a unique opportunity for Sri Lanka’s engagement with a few Caribbean nations, beyond the connections made through cricket.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment organized the First Meeting of the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihood Action Group (MELAG) Under the Commonwealth Blue Charter. The Meeting was also supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia.
Presentation by the Kenyan Delegate
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
11 October 2019