The Myanmar Times
Friday, 24 October 2014
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Scientists fear Myanmar's disappearing mangroves

 

Human activity has decimated the coastal and marine ecosystems of Myanmar over the past three decades, conservation experts said at a meeting last week.

Dr Kyaw Tint, chairman of the Mangrove and Environmental Rehabilitation and Conservation Network (MERN), said mangrove forests in the coastal areas of Rakhine State, and Ayeyarwady and Tanintharyi Regions had depleted and degraded considerably since 1980.

“Total mangrove forest cover in Myanmar in 1980 amounted to 531,000 hectares but by 2010 only 312,000ha were left, according to Forest Department statistics. Total mangrove coverage in 2010 had been estimated at 659,033ha. But encroachments by agriculture, fisheries and others in the mangrove forests have occupied 346,590ha, leaving only about 312,443ha for mangroves,” he said.

The discussions took place at the National Consultative Workshop on Conservation and Sustainable Management of Coastal and Marine Ecosystems. The workshop was held at the Sedona Hotel on November 5 and 6, and was organised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Mangroves for the Future, MERN and Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem.

Dr Kyaw Tint said excessive wood cutting for fuel, agricultural expansion and the construction of fish and shrimp ponds were the main reasons for loss of mangroves. He added that natural mangrove forests in Ayeyarwady Region had suffered about 80 percent destruction due to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 and the intrusion of agricultural land and fish and shrimp ponds, according to the survey conducted by the Forestry Department after Nargis.

He said the extent of mangrove forests in Ayeyarwady had declined by about 6475ha in the period 2007 to 2009.

U Maung Maung Pyone, secretary of the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association, said the consumption of firewood for commercial reasons threatens the future of forest conservation efforts in the area.

“We saw huge piles of firewood, sometimes larger than houses, for use in the dried prawn business when we visited to Pyapon township in Ayeyarwady Region. There are a number of such businesses in the area, and firewood demand is very high,” he said.

Dr Kyaw Tint said the forestry department survey had recommended the reforestation and protection of a five-mile strip along the coast, and the planting of trees for 100 metres on either side of big streams to help protect against bank erosion and to protect coastal dwellers from strong winds and sea waves.

He added that Myanmar’s rich coral species were also affected by human activities and climate change. Coral is sold at some beaches and fishing on coral reefs is increasing. Illegal dynamite fishing is widespread in coastal areas and is also a major threat to coral systems. Coral bleaching as a result of climate change has also been observed in Myanmar waters, he said.

Another issue discussed at the workshop is overfishing.

“A survey conducted in 17 fishing blocks near the Ayeyarwady delta coastline and in coastal and deep-sea areas off Tanintharyi Region in 2007 found that the catch was 85.92 kilograms an hour, down from 96.12 kg recorded by government surveys conducted in 1996 and 1998,” Dr Kyaw Tint said.

U Mya Than Tun, assistant director of Environment and Endangered Aquatic Animal Conservation Unit, Department of Fisheries, said that fish resources such as hilsa were significantly down because of the use of unsustainable fishing techniques.

The workshop recommended the development and implement of integrated ecosystem management, the formulation and implementation of integrated coastal management plans involving stakeholders, mainstream biodiversity conservation and climate change initiatives.