Last August, the Amazon rainforest was struck by wildfires that spread at a devastating speed through an area the size of three football fields per minute. It was not the first time the rainforest has faced such a threat and, for the Amazon as well as the rest of the world's forests, it will not be the last.
Unlike other times this has happened, however, in August the media exposure grew faster than the fire itself. The visibility of the mass destruction was, for many of us, a long-overdue wake-up call about the state of our endangered planet.
For the two of us, who would eventually come to found Mangroves 4 Mankind, it was a turning point. We were overcome by a fierce sense of urgency to act.
Individuals are often unsure of where to start and how best to achieve results during times like this. Donations were being solicited all over the internet, but there was little confidence that the funds would really be directed towards efforts to fight the fires or to restore the rainforest. As a result, many did not donate, even though the will was there. Nonetheless, we could not afford to idly stand by and watch. No human can – not if we want to leave a habitable planet behind to the next generation.
Here in the UAE, we are accustomed to working fast. A 10-year plan can be achieved in 12 months. It is deeply ingrained within us; we have grown up seeing our desert towns blossom into green metropolises. We thought that if we combined this mindset with our determination to make a difference, along with the fact that our country has strong relationships with governments globally, we would be in a unique position to make a positive impact on the world.
And so, Mangroves 4 Mankind was born: a licensed social enterprise established in the UAE with the unique objective of combatting climate change by conserving and restoring mangrove ecosystems in every coastal city around the world.
M4M speaks to you, the individual, making sure that scientific facts are at the forefront of your news, and shedding light on global projects that support rural communities and micro-businesses livelihoods of which are dependent on the health of the mangrove forests in their surroundings.
There were many reasons we chose to focus on mangroves, beginning with the fact that we already have a very healthy population of mangrove forests scattered along the UAE’s coastline. This would allow us to work with experts in our own backyard and to learn sustainably on the ground without having to travel and add to the world’s carbon emissions.
The second reason is that research shows that three quarters of all tropical fish species are born within mangrove forests. Therefore, they are crucial to biodiversity health and to humankind’s consumable supply of fish.
Third, mangroves aged 10 years and older absorb over six times more carbon in their soil than any terrestrial tree. When mangroves are destroyed, not only do we take away a vital source of our planet’s carbon sequestration, but also release all of the carbon stored in the back into the atmosphere.
Therefore, governments around the world must put the necessary legislation in place to protect existing mangrove ecosystems, because simply replanting those destroyed will not help to mitigate the environmental damage. Preservation and protection of mangrove forests will always be more valuable than planting them anew. Still, with the loss of mangrove ecosystems that we have witnessed over the last few decades, there is an urgent need for us to replant them now as an investment in our future.
Today, we are faced with a pandemic, and the world has come to a standstill because of it. The huge decrease in human activity has also resulted in a drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels, which is promising for the environment. We need to focus on fundamental changes in manufacturing, a shift towards green energy, more responsible choices in consumerism and the restoration of our planet's forests, if we are to tackle the elephant in the room – climate change.
Prior to the pandemic, statistics showed that 93 per cent of the world's donations were directed towards humanitarian causes and only three per cent allotted to the environment. Today, with the collapse of the global economy and the devastation caused by Covid-19 to so many lives, these figures will be even more skewed towards humanitarian causes. However, the two are not separate from one another. In fact, we are faced with this pandemic partly because we have tampered too much with nature. Climate change, moreover, is an eventual catastrophe for all human life on Earth.
Finally, we would like to leave you with this thought: although you are now dreaming for life to return to normal, that "normal" was not working. We want to enter a world of new beginnings. Brands and businesses will be knocking on every door and appearing on every screen to pull us back to "normal", but let us make responsible choices in what we buy this time around.
Let us eat better and consume only what is necessary. Let us fight the need for instant gratification and, instead, be thoughtful towards those in need. Let us take action as individuals and have a more balanced approach in sharing the Earth’s limited resources. Let us ensure that wildlife and foliage thrive wherever possible. Every single one of us can make a difference in the world, and we look forward to starting a new journey with all of you.
Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan and Ahlam Bolooki are the co-founders of Mangroves 4 Mankind