A new study published in PLoS ONE by the Wildlife Conservation Society and co-authors from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions at the University of Queensland and U.S. National Center for Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in Santa Barbara shows where mangroves in Fiji provide the most value for important ecosystem services, such as coastal protection, fisheries, biodiversity and carbon storage.

The World Risk Report in 2014 ranked Fiji within the top twenty countries most at risk to natural hazards. Around 80% of Fiji’s population is clustered along coastal margins and low lying floodplains, making coastal residents and infrastructure vulnerable to the combined flooding hazards of freshwater runoff from upstream adjacent catchments and storm surge during tropical cyclones and sustained low pressure systems, such as recently experienced during the Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston in February 2016.

Coastal ecosystems are able to provide some shoreline protection to storm surge waves by serving as physical barriers that reduce the energy and height of waves passing over or through them. Vegetated ecosystems like mangroves resist incoming waves through drag and friction and can further protect shorelines through sediment trapping. Studies suggest mangroves can reduce wave height by up to 36% and storm surge heights by up to 75% as stands reach 5 kilometres in width.

Spatial mapping conducted as part of the study indicated geographical distinctions between priority mangrove areas for provisioning of different mangrove ecosystem services in Fiji. These maps can help decision-makers better direct funding for mangrove management from various sources to localities that best meet the funding objectives. For example, financing for disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation (e.g., from the Green Climate Fund) can be directed toward mangrove areas with the highest value for coastal protection services. Further, the maps can be used by planners in Fiji for coarse-level designation of no-go zones for development based on the national significance of mangroves.

In conjunction with the paper, WCS has developed a policy brief to advise national decision-makers and planners on opportunities under Fiji’s existing legislation and policy framework to better consider the value of mangroves for ecosystem service provisioning when evaluating whether development approvals should be granted.

Both the paper and the policy brief were developed with support from the Science for Nature and People Partnership, a collaboration between NCEAS, WCS and The Nature Conservancy, through a working group on Coastal Defences.

You can download a copy of this report here http://programs.wcs.org/fiji/Resources/Journal-Articles.aspx