A mangrove planted by volunteers on World Environment Day. Photo: Lilian Kenequa


Reprinted from The Grail "GJOP Pacific Outlook Bulletin December 2022". 

The women of the remote community of Poukama village in Hallsound Bay of the Kairuku Hiri District in Central Province are restoring the country’s most diverse mangrove forest.

The community used to cut down mangroves, not realising they were not sustaining a valuable resource. But in 2014 a group of 25 local women met and agreed to start the local mangrove replanting program. For half a day once a fortnight they do a general clean up and plant mangrove seedlings from their nursery, and by 2020 they had planted over 3,000 mangroves.

Poukama village resident Marie Helen Mamei says it’s a major change for the community.

“We normally just go ahead and cut anything you know.”

She is the chair of Women in Mangrove Management (WIMA), the group set up to replant mangroves in the Kairuku Hiri District of Central Province in Papua New Guinea and has seen an incredible transformation in the mangrove forest surrounding her home.

"When we started planting we saw a lot of changes in our area, we saw more fish coming in and some things we didn't expect were also coming into our area. Crabs were just coming in left, right and centre," she said.

"Before we started there was a bit of erosion and the beach had been washed away by the sea so we took the initiative to do something to protect our village from erosion."

The project began with the help of local non-profit organisation, Papua New Guinea Centre for Locally Managed Areas. Now the community has taken the project into its own hands and hopes to pass on knowledge about mangrove rehabilitation to other coastal communities in PNG.

Across the world, mangrove forests are under threat from rising sea levels and land clearing. Mangroves provide a natural barrier between the water and land, serving as a defence for coastal communities. They also store carbon from the Earth's atmosphere, helping reduce global warming.

“We didn’t know that mangroves were going to be important to protect our environment.”

Marie Mamei said locals have also become more in tune with changes in the mangroves.

“They have senses. Like they sense the weather, so as soon as they feel there’s wind coming or there’s going to be a big storm, they put down their roots to protect themselves. That helps hold the soil near the beaches, so we don’t have so much soil erosion due to climate change.”

The women plan to continue planting mangroves into the future.

“We do this voluntarily with the help of our husbands and children. We want this to continue because we know that in the future it will benefit our children and the future to come,” Marie said.

She also says they are fully aware of the importance of biodiversity and conservation, something they knew little about a few years back.

“Before when we did not have this rehabilitation area there was not much fish, crabs and shells, but now with this project we see a lot of this marine lives living in the mangrove.” The project has also provided an income source for the community, which sells sustainably-caught crabs and fish at markets in Port Moresby and to international exporters.

Maxine Anjiga, executive director for Papua New Guinea Centre for Locally Managed Areas, said the model had huge potential for increasing gender equality in PNG. But she said working with male chiefs from Poukama was crucial for achieving female participation.

"Normally women would not have the chance to come out and do what they are doing. They would follow the instructions of the male leaders," Ms Anjiga said. "Because we got permission from the men, he allowed his wife to come and participate."

"Now women are leaders, women are speaking, women are doing this rehabilitation. Women are doing everything they're doing because we went through the male leadership," she said. "We feel like we made a breakthrough and we used the traditional system for the women to participate and take the lead and we are looking for ways to replicate this in other mangrove communities."

Sources: Women Guardians of the Mangroves, The Nature Conservancy, 31 May 2020; PNG villagers revive shrinking mangroves by Benjamn Kedoga, Pasifika Environews, 9 November 2020; Mangrove revegetation program helping improve a Papua New Guinea coastline, and it’s all driven by local women, ABC, 17 June 2022.