Action Against Desertification

International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem: Replanting mangrove gives community hope in the face of climate change

Action Against Desertification’s restoration efforts protect Fijian coast and provide key marine habitat


When the deadly Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in February, 2016, it was reportedly the strongest storm ever recorded to make landfall in the Southern Hemisphere, and the coastal village of Nasavu was in the centre of its path.

“It was morning and we were terrified. We had never seen such big waves,” said Varinava Nakaboa, 59, who is Nasavu’s traditional matanivanua or the chief’s herald.

Due to increasing coastal erosion in Nasavu, the Government of Fiji had already advised families who lived along the shore to uproot their homes further upland. All that was left was the foundation posts. But now the waves were lashing the hillside 10 meters up from the old houses foundations, dragging away more and more coastline.

“With climate change impacts, the reality for most coastal villages in the Pacific is that these storm events will become more frequent and more intense,” said Maika Daveta, the Fiji coordinator for FAO’s Action Against Desertification project (AAD).

What people saw firsthand after Winston was how much better areas with mangroves forests faired.

“Mangroves are, and will be even more so, critical barriers for communities from storm surge. In addition, mangroves are vital nursery habitat for food fish and other critters, not to mention they help to naturally filter excess runoff that can smother coral reefs,” he added.

In Fiji, Action Against Desertification and partners are working with 64 communities to restore degraded land and build capacity to drive these efforts in the long-term. Communities also get support in developing alternative livelihood opportunities, such as beekeeping, vanilla farming and value adding of non-timber forest products like pandanus.

AAD is targeting to restore a total 2 000 hectares of degraded land. So far, 500 hectares including 100 hectares of mangroves have been restored in communities with 35 000 mangrove seedlings of three local species out of a total of 250 000 seedlings planted, reaching 4 000 people.

Lessons learned from the efforts will be shared nationally, and regionally.

With Cyclone Winston still fresh on the Nasavu community’s mind, there was a keen interest to improve coastal protection, said Nakaboa.

Maika Daveta explained that protecting coastline takes careful planning. Together with the Ministry of Forestry, Action Against Desertification consulted with the village elders, before engaging in a participatory planning process to assess the kind of plants already growing there and to raise awareness to community members on the role of mangroves.

Eventually, the replanting sites were confirmed. The AAD team and Ministry staff provided hands-on support to communities, illustrating the best planting approaches, such as the distance between seedlings, and the use of a zig-zag pattern to increase benefits.

Through Action Against Desertification and with the advice, assistance and support from the Ministry of Forestry, community members are now propagating seedlings and planting mangroves along the foreshore where Cyclone Winston sent waves up the hill towards the coastal homes.

“We are happy to finally take action to fix an area that has been a constant source of worry for our people,” Nakaboa said.


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