“Coastal communities depend on mangroves for fisheries, timber and fuelwood and to protect them from flooding during intense storms. However, the valuable services that they provide may disappear in some areas due to inappropriate governance and policies,” details Valerie. “My project aims to investigate how community and Indigenous management of forests, known as community forestry, can improve mangrove conservation and restoration around the world.”
Mangroves grow where the land meets the sea and are the only trees that can live in salty waters. According to the Global Mangrove Watch, mangrove forests covered approximately 147,350 km2 in 20201, which is roughly equivalent to the size of Bangladesh. Due to human and climate change impacts, these ecosystems are among the most threatened on Earth. Approximately one-third of all mangrove forests were estimated to have been lost pre-20003, with declines continuing by 3.4% between 1996 and 20201. This is a particularly concerning trend as mangroves play a crucial role in mitigating climate change by storing large amounts of carbon. They provide habitat for a diverse range of species and protect around 3.5 million people from the consequences of global warming, including storm surges, flooding, erosion, and sea-level rise.
“The continued decline of mangroves would represent both an ecological and economic loss that coastal communities cannot afford,” states Valerie. “Their preservation and regeneration can help to protect traditional ways of life, support food security, enhance ocean health, protect biodiversity, and underpin climate action.”
Mangroves are part of intricate and complex social-ecological systems. Therefore, an effective approach to conservation and restoration needs to be multidimensional and consider the social, economic, and ecological processes influencing ecosystems, such as conservation policies and activities incorporation of mangroves into protected areas and good governance with anti-corruption measures and higher levels of democracy, alongside local economic activity and biophysical drivers.
One of those drivers, national support for community forestry, was found to have a positive impact on mangrove conservation. This practice termed ‘community forestry’ draws on a participatory approach to forest management that involves both communities and smallholders in governing and managing forest resources to achieve sustainability.
Under this approach, communities either own the forests or are granted permission by the state to harvest forest products for sale to generate income or for personal use. Sustainable management of the forest can generate positive effects on the welfare of communities.
“In drylands, community forestry has been shown to reduce both forest loss and poverty, leading to conservation and social outcomes,” explains Valerie. “However, community forestry in mangroves is an emerging practice and the benefits for both mangrove conservation and community livelihoods under different social and biophysical settings are yet to be assessed.”
During her AXA Research Fund fellowship at the University of Queensland, Australia, Valerie is conducting a meta-analysis of studies involving community or Indigenous management of mangroves to identify the factors that influence the success of community forestry projects, including country policy, governance, land tenure, Indigenous rights, forestry management practice, women’s equality, and poverty, among others.
Valerie is analyzing mangrove community forestry projects in countries with different socio-economic contexts, including Myanmar, Fiji, Indonesia, Australia, Mexico and Kenya, that share the common issue of deforestation. In collaboration with partners in those countries, she is assessing the influence of social and economic variables and forest management practices on mangrove health. Methods may involve interviews with local people to identify how they manage the forest, and satellite earth observations and field work to assess mangrove health. . This comprehensive scientific evaluation will serve as the foundation for identifying the factors and strategies necessary to successfully implement community forestry policies and programmes for mangroves.
Valerie’s project will enable organizations, such as conservation organizations, to allocate their resources more effectively to protect and restore mangroves and deliver ecosystem services to coastal populations. It will also tackle Ocean Decade Challenges 2, 4 and 6, which aim to protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity, develop a sustainable and equitable ocean economy, as well as mainstream community preparedness and resilience, respectively.
“The project’s results will help inform policy and support decision-making to promote effective community forestry in mangroves, in a way that considers the rights of Indigenous peoples and customary management practices, and increases resilience to ocean hazards,” she concludes.
For more details on Valerie’s project, visit her Action page on the Ocean Decade website and her project page on the AXA Research Fund website.
For more details on all the winning projects, visit the AXA Postdoctoral Fellows page.
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC/UNESCO) promotes international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources. The IOC enables its 150 Member States to work together by coordinating programmes in capacity development, ocean observations and services, ocean science and tsunami warning. The work of the IOC contributes to the mission of UNESCO to promote the advancement of science and its applications to develop knowledge and capacity, key to economic and social progress, the basis of peace and sustainable development.
About the Ocean Decade:
Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC/UNESCO) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.
About the AXA Research Fund:
The AXA Research Fund was launched in 2008 to address the most important issues facing our planet. Its mission is to support scientific research in key areas related to risk and to help inform science-based decision-making in both the public and private sectors. Since its launch, the AXA Research Fund has committed a total of €250M to scientific funding and supported nearly 700 research projects in the areas of health, climate and environment, and socio-economics.
1 Bunting, P.; Rosenqvist, A.; Hilarides, L.; Lucas, R.M.; Thomas, T.; Tadono, T.; Worthington, T.A.; Spalding, M.; Murray, N.J.; Rebelo, L-M. Global Mangrove Extent Change 1996 – 2020: Global Mangrove Watch Version 3.0. Remote Sensing. 2022 https://doi.org/10.3390/rs14153657  Goldberg, L., Lagomasino, D., Thomas, N., Fatoyinbo, T. 2020. Global declines in human-driven mangrove loss. Global Change Biology 26, 5844–5855. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15275
 Blankespoor, B., Dasgupta, S., Lange, G.M. 2017. Mangroves as a protection from storm surges in a changing climate. Ambio 46, 478–491. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13280-016-0838-x
 Hagger, V., Worthington, T.A., Lovelock, C.E., et al. 2022. Drivers of global mangrove loss and gain in social-ecological systems. Nature Communications 13(1):6373. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-33962-x
 Hagger, V., Worthington, T.A., Lovelock, C.E. et al. 2022. Drivers of global mangrove loss and gain in social-ecological systems. Nature Communications 13(1):6373. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-33962-x