My Journey Among Mangroves

ELISABETH FAHRNI MANSUR

By Last Stands author and photographer Kennedy Warne

The Last Stands project grew out of a story on mangroves I wrote for National Geographic magazine in February 2007. Seeing the tragedy of mangrove depletion during this field work made me want to write a book on the subject.

Mangroves are being destroyed at an alarming rate, but their passing produces barely a murmur of protest in developed countries. Terrestrial rainforests have many advocates, but mangroves have few. I want to bring these imperilled forest ecosystems to people’s attention—and to show them how amazing they are.

I have a background in marine biology, and in 1988 became the founding editor of New Zealand Geographic magazine. I have written widely on the marine environment, including stories on sharks in South Africa, harp seals in Canada, albatrosses in New Zealand and sea-level rise in Tuvalu. But the mangrove story is the one that has most captured my fascination, and the one that begged to be expanded into a book.

“I want to capture readers’ imaginations with the mystique of these neglected forests, and stir them to action to help protect and restore them.”
- Kennedy Warne

These forests are the fish nurseries of the sea, the breakwaters and land-preservers of vulnerable coastlines and the supermarkets of the coastal poor. Yet they are razed to make way for everything from golf courses to shrimp ponds, and face the added threat of being drowned through sea-level rise. People need to hear about this destruction now, before these astonishing places disappear completely.

Spreading the message

To help spread the message, I’m collaborating with the Mangrove Action Project (MAP), a US-based non-profit organization which works with mangrove forest communities, grassroots organizations and scientists to conserve and restore mangrove forests and to increase public awareness about the environmental and social costs of mangrove loss.

During my National Geographic field work in 2005, I visited coastal communities in north-eastern Brazil with MAP’s Latin America co-ordinator, Elaine Corets. We visited a tiny settlement where the people’s access to mangroves—their traditional seafood harvesting area—had been cut off by the barbed-wire fences of a shrimp farm. Salt-water seepage from the ponds had contaminated their wells, making the water undrinkable. Their village, called Porto do Ceu—the gates of paradise—had been turned into the gates of hell. I want to tell the stories of these people, and millions like them who rely on mangroves to sustain their lives.

I want to put a human face on the destruction of the rainforests of the sea.