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
CommunityGrand Cape Mount County
UniversityUniversity of Liberia
Case TypeProject Stories
University Department CodeEnvironment and Climate Change
Sustainable Development Goals13 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.
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.
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 ren