University’s Vanga project launched with backing from Hollywood star

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University scientists have launched an ambitious new conservation project in east Africa with backing from Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

A community event in Kwale County in southern Kenya this week marked the start of Vanga Blue Forest, which will bring benefits to local people and the environment, and combat climate change.

The project has been launched by Edinburgh Napier scientists and has been modeled on the university’s pioneering work on the Mikoko Pamoja initiative, ‘Mangroves Together’ in Swahili, which saw staff and students work with local villagers and researchers in nearby Gazi Bay to protect threatened mangrove forests and fund community development.

Vanga Blue Forest will expand on this success, protecting a forest of 460 hectares, four times the size, and three villages which are home to 8,700 people.

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Among the funders is the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, an organisation set up by the Wolf of Wall Street actor to work with environmental experts, organisations and philanthropists to protect threatened ecosystems.

Mangrove forests are incredibly important. They support biodiversity, they act as a natural sea wall, they provide shelter and food to fish and shellfish species, and they sequester and store huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to fight climate change.

The project involves planting new mangrove trees and protecting the existing forest, increasing the carbon dioxide that it can absorb from the atmosphere. This carbon can then be sold as carbon offsets to people and organisations who seek to lower their carbon footprint.

The offsets generated by the first year of activity will be available for purchase in 2020 from Association for Coastal Ecosystem Services (ACES), a Scottish-registered charity. Income from the project, certified by the Plan Vivo Standard, will fund further forest conservation activities and community development projects.

The initiative has been planned by the Community Forest Association of Vanga, Jimbo and Kiwegu in collaboration with Edinburgh Napier, ACES and Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

Lead scientist Professor Mark Huxham, from Edinburgh Napier’s School of Applied Sciences, said: “Mangrove forests are one of nature’s most powerful carbon sinks and are vital for the local people and the wildlife that rely on them. By using carbon offsets to fund their conservation, we are helping to ensure they will continue to provide these services for generations to come.”

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ACES trustee and Edinburgh Napier alumnus Robyn Shilland said: “We are very proud to work with the Kenyan Government, with the people of Vanga and with Plan Vivo to achieve this unique project. It shows how people from very different backgrounds and with very different skills can come together and help make a difference to conservation and the climate crisis.”

Mikoko Pamoja is now in its fifth year. The benefits it has brought to the community include the provision of wells, schoolbooks and hospital equipment, as well as protecting mangroves.

The project in Kenya’s Gazi Bay, 50km south of Mombasa, was named as a winner of the 2017 Equator Prize – which honours nature-based local solutions for sustainable development – by the United Nations Development Programme.

Shortly afterwards, Leonardo DiCaprio announced funding of $50,000 from the Foundation he established to work on pressing environmental issues to try to repeat the project’s success with Vanga Blue Forest.

Help in meeting the costs of Vanga Blue Forest is also coming from Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation, United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility.

 
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