|Man in the Mangroves: The Socio-economic Situation of Human Settlements in Mangrove Forests (UNU, 1986, 115 pages)|
Professor Sanga Sabhasri, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Science, Technology, and Energy, Government of Thailand
It is a great honour for me to have the opportunity to participate in the Workshop on the Socioeconomic Situation of Human Settlements in Mangrove Forests, which is jointly organized by the United Nations University and the National Research Council of Thailand.
When we speak about mangrove forests, everyone now agrees that these forests provide us with important natural resources extremely beneficial to people living along the coastal areas and nearby. Mangrove forests make up only about 15.8 million hectares, or 0.6 per cent of all inland forests in the world. About 6.5 million hectares, or 41.4 per cent of the world total, are found in tropical Asia. Although small in comparison with the world's total forests, they play a very important role in the ecosystem of the region. They prevent soil erosion by acting as a wind and water break. They maintain moisture and breeding grounds for many plants and animals both on land and in the sea. They also provide food, construction materials, fibres, and medicinal plants to dwellers in and near the coastal zones.
Problems of exploitation of mangrove resources are increasing due to the rapid recent growth of the population. In the late 1960s the complex pressures resulting from population growth, urban expansion, and economic development brought about heavy exploitation and destruction of mangrove resources. Detrimental activities included poorly executed logging operations, alluvial mining, road construction, and conversion of mangrove forests into shrimp farms, fish ponds, and salt pans. In addition, many mangrove forests near big cities have been reclaimed for real estate developments. It has recently been noted that many mangrove areas have been manipulated beyond their environmental tolerance. The over-exploitation of mangrove resources, without concern for their maintenance, reflects the outmoded view that mangroves are an inexhaustible resource. The time has come to realize that such an attitude towards the mangrove environment needs to be changed, and a sense of responsibility to protect the mangroves must be restored.
Public awareness of these problems began in the early 1970s. There were several incidents which first drew the attention of Thai scientists. Among them were the effects of military use of herbicides on mangroves in South Viet Nam. This attracted the attention of American, European, and Vietnamese scientists to questions of productivity and regeneration of mangroves. Thai scientists were invited by the US National Academy of Sciences to join in the study of these problems. Mangrove areas in Thailand were used as a baseline for study of the ecosystem of relatively undisturbed mangroves. Plants in undisturbed mangrove forests were investigated to determine their ecological role, as a comparison with mangroves destroyed by military use of herbicides. [The effects of herbicides in South Vietnam, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., 1974]1.
Coinciding with the study of effects of herbicides was the conversion of mangroves to fish ponds at an alarming rate. This drew attention from Thai conservationists and scientists. A group of Thai scientists who were deeply concerned with the loss of mangrove forests met in the early 1970s. They produced a message to the public that over-exploitation and misuse of the mangrove ecosystem could lead to detrimental effects on economically important aquatic species along the coastline such as fish, prawns, shrimp, crabs, and oysters. An appeal was issued stating that a symbiotic relationship in which humans are equal partners with nature must be recognized, mangrove resources had to be renewed, and a better management system had to be developed quickly to restore stability to the mangrove ecosystem. To achieve these objectives, the scientists asked that basic information should be collected and understood and that this information should be used as a basis for improved management and utilization. In order to mobilize resources for this purpose, support was sought from international organizations such as Unesco and the United Nations University in addition to bilateral organizations.
Problems in the management and conservation of mangrove resources can be classified into three key needs. The first is to re-establish a stable mangrove ecosystem after the exploitation of the forest area; the second, to maintain the relationship between forest and fisheries; and the third, to enhance the function of mangrove forests in erosion control. Both information on human uses and scientific knowledge of the natural ecosystem are required in order to develop effective management and conservation of the mangrove ecosystem. Education and training for public appreciation of the mangrove system must be increased, and awareness and consciousness of the importance of the mangrove ecosystem must be established among high-level decisionmakers.
As the mangrove area is losing ground to fish ponds, shrimp farms, and other uses, it is recommended that the carrying capacity of the mangrove area should be determined before converting it to other resource development projects. The socio-economic aspects of human activities in mangrove areas should be taken into account. The socio-economic consequences of a decision by the state to allow a few private entrepreneurs to take control of the area should be taken into account. In general, the mangrove resources in South-East Asia are owned and managed by the state, and it is considered that the general public has an interest in this property, but mangrove dwellers depend specifically on mangrove resources for their livelihood. The decision to give ownership of concessions to a few entrepreneurs would eventually cause great hardship for mangrove dwellers, most of whom are poor. Therefore, a balanced relationship between fishery production and forest production in mangrove areas is necessary in order to benefit the largest number of people. It is essential that countries which possess these valuable coastal resources should concentrate their political will and aim their highest policies at sustained yield from the mangrove resources, while moving toward greater equity and a more even distribution of the income and other benefits from these resources among rural people.
Successful policy planning for the development and management of mangrove resources depends on many factors. Policy planning and implementation cannot be successful without basic data on dwellers in the mangrove forest and on the dynamics of the watershed areas and the coastline.
This workshop is a great occasion for experts and policy-makers from different corners of the world to have an opportunity to meet and share their views and experience. I believe that the four days of the workshop will yield pertinent knowledge which can be applied to successful policy planning for the management of mangrove forests. I believe this workshop, attended by distinguished researchers, will produce appropriate recommendations for policy planning to develop, manage, and maintain mangrove resources. I am sure that, as long as we are aware of the significance of mangrove resources, mangrove forests will continue to exist and will be preserved as useful natural resources not only for all of us today but also for future generations.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the United Nations University, to the National Research Council of Thailand, and to all those who made this workshop possible, and to welcome all the participants.