Sri Lanka hosts first MELAG meeting under Commonwealth Blue Charter

Tuesday, 15 October 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Group photo at the inaugural event

Welcome address by Foreign Affairs Acting Secretary Ahamed A. Jawad 

Mangrove replanting by a participant during the field visit

 Presentation by the Kenyan delegate

Group discussion during the meeting led by Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General – Ocean Affairs, Environment, and Climate Change Hasanthi Urugodawatte Dissanayake

The first meeting of the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihood Action Group (MELAG) under the Commonwealth Blue Charter was held from 7 to 9 October in Negombo. 

During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 held in London, realising the importance of mangroves at a time when Sri Lanka is ranked second in the Global Climate Risk Index, Sri Lanka committed to champion the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group (MELAG) of the Commonwealth Blue Charter. 

Sri Lanka is one of 12 countries that stepped forward to lead nine ‘Action Groups’ under the Blue Charter – a commitment made by the 53 Commonwealth Member States to work together to solve ocean-related problems. ‘Champion’ countries of the Commonwealth Blue Charter are laying the groundwork for joint action and robust, innovative strategies to tackle the world’s most pressing ocean issues.

In August, Sri Lanka was joined by eight other Commonwealth countries – namely Australia, Bangladesh, Vanuatu, Bahamas, Nigeria, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom. MELAG aims to share best practices and expand mutual cooperation in the conservation and sustainable utilisation of mangroves, and aims to develop a basic database of mangrove ecosystems in the Commonwealth, including categories of ownership and species diversity, share technical know-how and best practices on the restoration of mangroves and the value of mangrove ecosystems to coastal livelihoods, strengthen community partnerships relating to mangrove ecosystems, and develop strategies to strengthen legal frameworks for the conservation of mangroves.

Mangroves are among the most rare and threatened ecosystems today. More than a third of the world’s mangrove forests have disappeared in the last two decades. Mangroves provide multiple benefits that are important to mankind. This includes the absorption and sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, providing a habitat for many species of plants and animals and nursery grounds for many fauna, including species important for fisheries, and it prevents coastal erosion and mitigates adverse impacts of climate change. 

Further, most significantly, the carbon sequestration ability of mangrove ecosystems is, on average, three to four times higher than tropical upland forests. It is, therefore, amply evident that mangroves make an immense contribution to our planet’s sustenance, livelihood enhancement, carbon sinks, climate change impact, and disaster mitigation. 

Inaugurating the meeting, Foreign Affairs Acting Secretary Ahmed A. Jawad emphasised: “We are entering an era where the very survival of humanity depends on our action. Planet Earth depends on us to make the right choices now. By taking steps to uphold the spirit of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, by ensuring that the Commonwealth takes a fair, equitable, inclusive and sustainable approach to ocean economic development and protection, we can derive greater benefits for the welfare of our people and future generations.” 

Given these circumstances, he further emphasised that a coordinated approach and a well-concerted effort to achieve the full potential are essential, and that we have the unique opportunity to contribute to a process towards a sustainable future for our future generations.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment Acting Secretary Mapa Pathirana highlighted efforts already taken by Sri Lanka to preserve and restore mangrove habitats. He spoke of the various steps the Ministry has initiated in that direction, including designing and implementing a robust mangrove restoration program in collaboration with stakeholders, especially after Sri Lanka took the responsibility to champion the initiative on mangroves. 

Among the key achievements are the establishment of a Special Task Force for Mangrove Restoration, drafting a dedicated National Policy and Guidelines on conservation and sustainable utilisation of mangrove ecosystems, and pursuing a special Cabinet decision aiming at preventing conversion of mangrove areas to other land uses.

The three-day event was mainly focused on identifying the current status, best practices and failures, gaps in achieving sustainable mangrove ecosystems that supports livelihoods of coastal communities in the participating countries, while comparing the strengths and weaknesses across the different regions of the world. 

Giving due recognition to stakeholder engagement at all levels, some of the Sri Lankan private sector and community-based organisations involved in mangrove restoration activities were invited to make presentations to share their expertise and experiences. Further, the terms of reference were finalised and interactive sessions contributed to the synthesis information needed to draft the action plan.

Sessions were facilitated by Commonwealth Blue Charter of the Commonwealth Secretariat Adviser Heidi Prislan, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia Principal Research Scientist Dr. Mat Vanderklift, and Foreign Affairs Ministry Director General – Ocean Affairs, Environment, and Climate Change Hasanthi Urugodawatte Dissanayake. The Sri Lankan participants included officials responsible for mangrove conservation and restoration activities from the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment and academic experts on mangroves. 

Deliberations were limited to two days with a one-day field visit to Seacology-Sudeesa Mangrove Museum – the world’s first mangrove museum – mangrove nurseries, and mangrove replanted sites under the care of the Forest Department. Further, visits were made to degraded mangrove sites (abandoned shrimp farms) and pristine mangrove sites. The delegates also joined in the re-planting of saplings of a mangrove species in Kalpitiya.

This meeting was also a unique opportunity for Sri Lanka’s engagement with a few Caribbean nations, beyond the connections made through cricket.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment organised the first meeting of the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihood Action Group (MELAG) under the Commonwealth Blue Charter. The meeting was also supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia.