Mangrove Conservation as a Nature-Based Approach to Enhancing Biodiversity and Reducing the Impact of Climate Change in the Lake Piso Area of Western Liberia

Author

Alexandra Skinner

Metrics

Community
Grand Cape Mount County
Community Size
129,817
University
University of Liberia
Status
In Progress
Case Type
Project Stories
Focus Areas
Climate Change, environment, Sustainability
Region
Africa
University Department Code
Environment and Climate Change
Sustainable Development Goals
11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, 13 Climate Action

Grand Cape Mount County in Western Liberia is home to the largest lake in Liberia,  Lake Piso. This lake has many ecological benefits as it provides a habitat for many  species, including fish, turtles, shore, and seabirds, and houses a large mangrove  forest. The mangroves are essential to the surrounding ecosystem and village areas as  they provide protection against erosion and absorb harmful storm surges. One of the  biggest advantages of the mangrove forest is its ability to sequester large amounts of  carbon from the atmosphere and store it underwater in the soil for the next millennia.  This capability is essential in the fight against climate change and will become  increasingly vital in the years to come. 

Figure 1 (left): Dryer used to dehydrate/smoke fish Figure 2 (right): Fish being dehydrated or smoked

Regrettably, the mangrove forests surrounding Lake Piso have witnessed a concerning  decline in recent years. In this region, fishermen catch fish from the lake and sell them  in local fish markets to sustain their families. To preserve the freshness of the catch for  market viability, the fishermen suspend the fish from logs or trees, lighting a fire  underneath them. The ensuing smoke from the fire envelops the fish, thereby  prolonging their freshness and enabling profitable sales at fish markets. This process,  known as fish smoking, predominantly relies on the use of mangrove wood to fuel the  fires, intensifying the demand for such wood and threatening the conservation of the  mangrove forest. 

Because of these harmful practices, there has been a significant effort to institute  conservation interventions in areas near Lake Piso to encourage the preservation of the  mangroves. This prompted Professor James McClain and a team of ten graduate  students affiliated with the University of Liberia’s Department of Environment and  Climate Change to initiate an examination of the success of these conservation  programs. Taking advantage of the EPIC model, Professor McClain and his students  partnered with the local government in the Commonwealth area and devised a multi objective study to understand conservation support on the management of sustainable  use of mangrove vegetation in the Lake Piso area. Here, the team looked to analyze the  level of mangrove degradation in Lake Piso. 

To understand the development of conservation programs in Lake Piso, students completed a desk review of conservation projects completed in the last six years. The  literature review revealed multiple initiatives that dealt with conservation training for  local individuals. These training programs were carried out by various organizations and  were created to educate local citizens on how to preserve mangroves to decrease the  cutting of mangrove trees. The training explained why mangrove forests are so vital to  the ecosystem, and some training programs even supplied citizens with sustainable  alternatives to cutting the mangroves. Through this review, students were able to  identify ten key training organizations and began interviewing each to get a better  understanding of the organization’s training practices. Each of these organizations had  a different goal and outlook on training methods, and students were hoping to get a  better understanding of each practice. In total, students conducted four total interviews  with conservation training organizations and are hoping to complete six more by the end of 2023; however, it has been difficult for the students to get organizations to agree to  discuss the inner workings and details of each project. 

Students started with interviewing the Society for Conservation of Nature in Liberia  (SCNL), a civil society organization that instituted conservation training in Lake Piso in  2021 and 2023, training 24 individuals. Their training program, Eco Brigade, served to  provide environmental education to the surrounding community members. The goal of  this training is to continuously detect anthropogenic activities threatening wetland  ecosystems and provide citizens with sustainable alternatives. Since the end of the  training period, the organization has completed interventions to evaluate the  effectiveness of its training methods. Through these measurements, SCNL found that  there is still some level of human pressure on the mangroves in the area, but  community awareness and involvement in conservation have increased. 

Similarly, Conservation International is an NGO that focuses on sustainable fishing  practices and mangrove and energy conservation. This organization completed  conservation training with 50-100 individuals between 2015-2018. Through the  company’s previous intervention measurements, students found that there has been a  reduction in mangrove cultivation, but more needs to be done as there is still a high  incentive for individuals to cut down mangroves. The United Nations Developmental  Program (UNDP) also got involved in these training programs while looking to expand  upon sustainable development. From 2017-2022, the UNDP trained 25 individuals with  the specific goal of raising awareness for behavior changes in the use of forest  resources and cultivating greater levels of natural resource management with a focus  on mangroves. These trainings targeted community structures such as the Lake Piso  conservation forum. 

Figure 3: Mangrove retail market ground

The UNDP took a much more innovative approach and trained individuals on the use of  eco stoves, energy-efficient devices designed to generate heat for cooking. These  stoves can be engineered to optimize heat retention, ensuring efficient utilization for  cooking purposes and minimizing heat loss to the surroundings. This not only reduces  emissions but also enhances burning efficiency generating more heat with less fuel.  Instead of a kilogram of mangrove wood to smoke fish, many fishermen can achieve the  same results with just half a kilogram. Consequently, this diminishes the need for  weekly mangrove wood purchases and decreases the incentive to engage in mangrove  wood cutting. While these stoves replicate the desired outcome of fish smoking, they  entail significantly fewer ecological consequences. Through these eco stove trainings,  the UNDP noted that there have been slight improvements in mangrove conservation.  For this reason, it is imperative that more innovative actions like the eco stove training take place to reduce the pressure on mangroves. 

Finally, Green Globe Consultancy (GGC) is an organization ensuring sustainable  development and management of our Earth’s natural resources and environment. They  trained 50-100 people between 2018-2019, focusing on mangrove conservation  education, awareness, and sustainable landscape-based activities. This organization  specifically trained individuals in climate-smart agricultural practices such as snail rearing and beekeeping. The main goal of this project was to increase the participation  of communities adjacent to the mangroves in Lake Piso and find alternative livelihood  options for forest-dependent people. The project further trained community inhabitants  to adopt and apply practical climate-smart agricultural practices in their everyday lives.  Unfortunately, many of the instruments needed to carry out these tasks were old and  unusable. The organization concluded that their training was somewhat ineffective due  to funding and technological failure, but community members were still knowledgeable  about mangrove conservation education. 

Through these interviews, students started to develop questions about the effectiveness  of the training programs. Using the EPIC model as their guide, students began  developing a community outreach survey to investigate if these training programs had  been successful in reducing mangrove deforestation. These outreach efforts included a  face-to-face community survey asking community members in Tozor, Latia, and  Sembehum about their mangrove usage pre- and post-conservation training. Students  also led a town hall meeting with the clan chiefs to discuss their research efforts and  educate the town leaders on conservation issues. 

Overall, the students were able to survey 176 people from Tozor, Latia, and Sembehum  and asked them about their interactions with mangroves before the training took place  (pre-conservation training). From the survey, the students found that in pre-conservation  training, individuals cut mangroves often or sometimes about 80% of the time. Of those  who cut the mangroves, about 50% used them to smoke fish. Additionally, many  citizens who did not cut mangroves still participated in buying mangrove wood to dry  fish. Students also asked individuals about their behavior with mangroves after the  conservation training took place. The students found that since taking part in  conservation training, there has been a slight decline in mangrove cutting suggesting  that conservation training is useful for mangrove conservation. 

However, the rationale for logging mangroves remains unchanged as most people still  use mangrove wood for fish curing, cooking, and selling. For these reasons, the  students recommend that it is important to fund energy-efficient solutions such as the  eco stoves described above alongside the conservation training programs. The survey  showed the act of dehydrating fish is often a citizen’s main use of mangrove wood. By  eliminating this need, the cutting of the mangrove trees will be significantly reduced  creating a more innovative solution to the issue. It is important to note that while this  community survey brought forward data about the mangrove conservation training  programs, there was a lack of large community participation in the survey. This small  sample group may not be a large enough representation of the whole community.  However, since the inception of the project and the execution of the EPIC model, the  community has increased its willingness to participate, and the students are holding  additional community meetings in December 2023 to gather more information. 

Along with the stakeholder mapping and community survey, the students are also  working on mapping mangrove degradation using Geographic Information System (GIS)  technology to classify the level of degradation in Lake Piso. The remote sensing is currently ongoing and is scheduled to be finished in December 2023. Furthermore,  Professor McClain aspires to showcase the project to potential donors, seeking funding  to distribute eco stoves within the local community and provide comprehensive training  on their effective usage along with perpetual funding for continued use of conservation  training. 

Overall, the ongoing commitment to climate initiatives exhibited by Professor McClain  and his students at the University of Liberia instills hope for the development of a  sustainable solution to mangrove preservation. Because of the EPIC model, Professor  McClain and his team of students have been able to work alongside local government  organizations, NGOs, and conservation organizations to find the most climate-friendly  and renewable solution to an ongoing issue in the Lake Piso area. With the continued  interventions of Professor McClain and the EPIC program, there is continued belief that  communities will start to see a resurgence of the mangrove.

This project is ongoing.

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