Building Guyana’s Resilience through Mangroves Restoration

 Photo Credit: Meshach Pierre

90% of Guyana’s population live on flat coastal plains, 0.5 metres below sea level. The soil is rich and good for agriculture but at risk from rising sea levels. UN Environment is supporting the government of Guyana to develop the Green State Development Strategy: Vision 2040, where one of the priorities is increasing resilience of Guyanese citizens by improving coastal defence through mangrove restoration.

Before 2010, both Carlotta De Jesus, local beekeeper and recently elected Town Councillor and Raymond Hinds, a mangrove ranger, would agree that those living on the coast of Guyana did not value the importance of preserving mangroves.

For many Guyanese then, it was a place to dump garbage, graze livestock, chop wood to make garden fences and a breeding ground for mosquitos. With minds that appeared to be already set, the task of convincing townspeople that their mangroves would serve a more important purpose if left untouched and allowed to grow and flourish seemed a most difficult task.

Through a mangrove restoration project, funded by the Government of Guyana and the European Union, and carried out by the National Agricultural Research Extension Institute (NAREI), part of Guyana’s Ministry of Agriculture; Carlotta De Jesus became one of the volunteers in the village of Victoria, who were trained to raise awareness and educate their communities on the value of preserving and protecting the mangroves in Guyana’s coastal wetlands.

Carlotta, who is not originally from Victoria, said that “this program really brought the community together, and helped me get to know my neighbours.”

During her awareness-raising activities, De Jesus would explain to community groups the risks of rising sea levels. She would bring community members to areas of the seawall, bare of any vegetation, and allow them to experience firsthand the waves topping the concrete defence mechanism.

She explained that “mangroves break the wave’s energy further out at sea meaning people’s homes and farms avoid destruction from the forces of the Atlantic Ocean.”  The Guyanese community began to understand that it takes more than a manmade structure (seawall) to protect against rising sea levels or high tides.

After spending several years working on a Caribbean cruise liner, where he would often spend nine months at sea, Raymond Hinds was offered the opportunity to support Guyana’s growing sustainable tourism industry as a mangrove ranger and tour guide. For him, “the mangroves were a way for [him] to stay at home and spend more time with [his] family.”

He was trained to educate visitors about the importance of mangroves and he often takes school trips and tours into the wetlands to share with them his knowledge of the mangrove systems and the life that exists within them.

Carlotta and Raymond both shared that after a year and a half of carrying out their various educational programs they have seen a significant change in attitudes toward preserving mangrove wetlands. The community members are now dumping garbage less and less as, “villagers are now taking ownership and reporting those who dump garbage.”

Mangroves around Victoria are no longer cut down for garden fences and cattle are supervised while grazing to avoid extensive damage to seedlings. As a result, fishermen are noticing an increase in the quantity of fish within the wetlands and people have started to see mangroves as a solution to the risk of flooding and rising sea levels.

Carlotta De Jesus, also a beekeeper, is well known in the area for her mangrove honey. “The mangrove honey isn’t as sweet as other kinds of honey, the salt from the sea does that, it makes our honey different and it’s had a very good response.” Along with her husband, she works to produce and market their honey under the label Mangrove Reserve Products at the Victoria Honey House. She said that there is now an annual beekeeping course for youth to promote alternative and sustainable livelihoods in Guyana.

Continued education on wetlands at school level promises a future generation invested in the protection and preservation of Guyana’s natural flood defence. In addition to learning about their importance, young people have also been introduced to the alternative opportunities that mangroves can offer.

Beekeeping, sustainable tourism, researching and monitoring are examples of how the youth of Guyana can learn new skills, seek out alternative livelihoods and preserve Guyana’s wetlands.