Blue Ventures has developed a cloud-based tool to enable coastal communities to map and monitor their mangroves and report on blue carbon impact. The innovation, known as GEM – Google Earth Engine Mangrove Mapping Methodology, is freely accessible online for non-profit users and will support communities to access climate finance as an incentive to protect threatened ecosystems.
Mangroves are exceptionally productive ecosystems, supporting a wealth of globally significant biodiversity and sustaining the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the tropics. They store staggering amounts of carbon dioxide, known as blue carbon, in natural sinks – up to 10 times as much per hectare as tropical rainforests. However, Earth is losing mangroves faster than any other forest type due to rapid coastal development, unregulated logging for timber and charcoal, and deforestation for aquaculture and agriculture.
Coastal communities are the first line of defence in protecting the world’s marine ecosystems. Yet the lack of easy-to-use, open-source tools to map and monitor mangrove ecosystems prevent many of them from managing their mangroves and associated fisheries sustainably. Climate finance could provide a powerful incentive for communities to tackle mangrove degradation while being able to provide for their families. But benefiting from the blue carbon marketplace is only possible where communities can quantify and report on the climate impact of their stewardship, which is a costly and complicated process that goes beyond most coastal communities’ reach.
The GEM tool aims to address these challenges by being freely accessible, intuitive, and replicable, enabling communities to be at the forefront of monitoring and conserving critical blue carbon ecosystems and carbon stocks. Blue Ventures has been working to develop and operationalise GEM as a tool that can increase the supply of community-led blue carbon projects. In early 2022, the organisation won ‘Top Innovator’ for GEM at the World Economic Forum’s Blue Carbon Challenge. The next step involves increasing GEM’s accessibility and putting it into the hands of coastal communities all over the world.
“GEM supports communities to map and monitor their mangroves, empowering them to manage these vital ecosystems effectively, and bringing down a key barrier to accessing climate finance,” said Lalao Aigrette, National Technical Advisor (Madagascar) for Mangrove and Blue Carbon at Blue Ventures.
Over the next year, Blue Ventures will provide training and technical support to coastal communities at critical mangrove conservation hotspots across Madagascar on how to use GEM to map and monitor mangrove habitats and the carbon they capture and store. GEM will migrate to a user-friendly mobile-based interface to promote wider use. Having real-time impact data that shows communities how mangrove management initiatives are progressing will empower them to manage their mangroves more effectively, which in turn will help to safeguard coastal livelihoods, protect threatened biodiversity, and enhance climate resilience. It will also remove one of the major barriers for communities to develop investible blue carbon projects, enabling them to capitalise on the soaring global market for blue carbon credits.
This project is supported by the Government of the Principality of Monaco.