Sri Lanka
Photo UNEP/Todd Brown. UN World Restoration Flagship Managrove Regeneration in Sri Lanka

Nairobi, 13 February 2024 – Mangrove forests play critical roles in Sri Lanka’s economy and climate resilience but are rapidly degrading due to climate change and pollution. A large-scale initiative to increase mangrove cover across Sri Lanka by more than 50 per cent was today named as one of seven UN World Restoration Flagships.

The World Restoration Flagship awards are part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) – which aims to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. The awards track notable initiatives following global commitments to restore one billion hectares – an area larger than China.

Mangrove forests thrive along the border between land and sea and are the first line of defence for coastlines, reducing erosion from storm surges, currents, waves, and tides. Their intricate root system makes them attractive to fish and other organisms seeking nurseries, food, and shelter. This need for the ecosystem’s mitigating effect was dramatically stressed during the 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 30,000 people in Sri Lanka. The award for the Sri Lanka Mangrove Regeneration initiative was announced by UNEP Advocate for Life Under Water and actor, Jason Momoa.

Following the tsunami, Sri Lanka led a mass-drive to plant mangroves. However, noticing that only approximately three per cent of the planted saplings survived, the country changed tactics: from planting mangroves to nurturing them. By creating the right conditions for mangroves to thrive, the plants started regenerating naturally. Ecosystem restoration on the island is now science-driven, co-led by local communities, and focused on restoring the natural balance in the ecosystem. Thanks to the country’s partnership with the Australian and UK governments, the focus on ensuring growth has already resulted in 500 hectares of newly restored mangroves since the initiative was founded in 2015.

Today, this resilient and biodiverse ecosystem provides natural protection against climate change – including cyclones, floods, sea level rise, wave action and coastal erosion –as well as medicine, fish, and other food, especially in poorer communities.

“As an island nation, mangroves are the first line of defence for us. Investing in restoration is investing in well-being, societal health and economic prosperity of Sri Lanka. It is also our contribution to global priorities and our deep understanding nurtured by living with nature, that all living beings, not just humans, share this wonderful ecosystem," said Mr. B.K Prabath Chandrakeerthi, Secretary, Ministry of Environment of Sri Lanka.

In 2015, Sri Lanka became the first nation to legally protect all its mangrove forests and established the National Expert Committee on Mangrove Conservation and Sustainable Use, spurring several actions to protect and manage mangroves including new declarations under the legislations.

In 2020, the Government of Sri Lanka adopted a National Policy on Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Mangrove Ecosystems in Sri Lanka. To maintain the sustainability of the policy, the “National Strategic Action Plan for Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Mangroves in Sri Lanka” was developed in 2022, complemented by National Guidelines. In 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution sponsored by Sri Lanka to celebrate 1st of March as World Seagrass Day. Seagrasses are closely linked to mangroves and the health of the overall ocean ecosystem.

Recognised as a World Restoration Flagship, Sri Lanka’s mangrove restoration drive is now eligible for technical and financial UN support. This will bring it closer to realize its 2030 goal of restoring 10,000 hectares of mangroves – more than 50 per cent of the country’s mangrove cover – benefiting 5,000 households and creating over 4,000 new jobs.

“Mangroves are one of the planet’s most productive ecosystems. Sri Lanka’s unwavering commitment to their restoration is one of the best possible bargains to be made with nature,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “The country’s relentless work on perfecting the planting of mangroves shows how restoration must be a long-term investment. Sri Lanka’s experience is one which many other nations would do well to draw from.”

Sri Lanka expects to be able to achieve its restoration 2030 goals with additional funding of USD 3.5 million to support livelihood activities, maintain restoration sites and restore channels r, as well as cleaning and boundary management, awareness raising and calculation of the value of carbon sequestered by the restoration of mangroves.

As a World Restoration Flagship, Sri Lanka’s mangrove restoration is recognized as one of the best examples of large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration in any country or region, embodying the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The announcement of seven new World Restoration Flagships was made ahead of the 6th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6), held between February 26 and March 1, 2024. The Assembly will convene the world’s Environment Ministers in Nairobi, Kenya, to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

Photo UNEP/Todd Brown. UN World Restoration Flagship Managrove Regeneration in Sri Lanka


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ℹ️ About the partner organizations:

The UN General Assembly has declared 2021–2030 a UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the UN Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, together with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. It aims at reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade draws together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.

Countries have already promised to restore 1 billion hectares – an area larger than China – as part of their commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, the Aichi targets for biodiversity, the Land Degradation Neutrality targets and the Bonn Challenge. However, little is known about the progress or quality of this restoration. With the World Restoration Flagships, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is honouring the best examples of large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration in any country or region, embodying the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade. Progress of all World Restoration Flagships will be transparently monitored through the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring, the UN Decade’s platform for keeping track of global restoration efforts.

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

FAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Its goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active healthy lives. With over 194-Member Nations, FAO works in over 130 countries worldwide.

The Ministry ensures sustainable use, management, and protection of environmental resources to create enabling conditions for sustainable development in Sri Lanka.

  • About the government partners from the UK, Australia, and USA

The initiative partners with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) of the UK, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia and the US Forest Service of the USA. These partners are currently supporting research, capacity development, community empowerment as well as building a long-term action plan to support all blue carbon ecosystems.

✉️  For more information, please contact: News desk, UN Environment Programme[email protected]

✉️ To contact the initiative: Ms. Surani Pathirana, Communication Focal Point Ministry of Environment, Sri Lanka: [email protected]

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