How small grants are helping to rescue marine habitats around the world

Photo-illustration: Pixabay (dimitrisvetsikas1969)

In recent years, fishing communities in Madagascar have seen their catches dwindle, a byproduct of chronic overfishing, especially in sensitive coastal habitats like seagrass meadows.

But in some communities, fish stocks have started to rebound, thanks in part to the work of the marine conservation group Blue Ventures.

Blue Ventures has worked with national and local governments to establish locally managed marine areas, protected zones that have become a haven for undersea life.

“The communities on the tropical coast of southwest Madagascar depend on mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs to establish a network of interlinked ecosystems that act as a base for maintenance of the rich marine biodiversity and fisheries,” said Javier del Campo Jimenez, Blue Ventures’ seagrass resident expert.

Blue Ventures is one of the recipients of a series of small grants from the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The grants, which were first handed out in 2019 and have totalled USD 560,000, are funding innovative, nature-based solutions designed to protect and restore marine ecosystems, including those threatened by climate change.


The grant programme, say those involved, is a tell-tale example of how investing in the natural world can produce big dividends for both people and the planet.

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, a landmark deal adopted by 196 countries with critical goals that the world must meet by 2030 if it is to halt and reverse nature loss, also calls for the acceleration of nature-based solutions and finance to address the alarming declines in biodiversity.

A 2021 report from UNEP found that the world will need to close a USD 4.1 trillion financing gap in nature-based solutions if it is to meet its targets for climate change, biodiversity, and land degradation. UNEP’s Finance for Nature report calls for investments in nature-based solutions to triple by 2030 and increase four-fold by 2050.

Photo-illustration: Pexels

The ICRI/UNEP small grants programme has supported seven projects in developing and small island states. These grants have helped to rehabilitate fast-disappearing marine and coastal ecosystems, including seagrass meadows, mangrove forests and coral reefs.

Experts say, these habitats have been under siege from a triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

“The health of interconnected habitats, such as mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs is closely linked to the health of the ocean as a whole,” said Leticia Carvalho, the Head of UNEP’s Marine and Freshwater Branch. “On this International Mother Earth Day, let’s remind one another how vital a healthy ocean is to the well-being of all life on Earth.”

The pressures on both marine and terrestrial ecosystems are pushing an estimated one million species towards extinction, a decline that researchers have called “unprecedented.”

One of those species under threat is the scalloped hammerhead shark. The animals, which are endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, often become fatally tangled in fishing nets.

To help save the animals, Mision Tiburon, another recipient of the UNEP/ICRI grant programme, has helped to restore degraded mangrove forests in the northern Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica. The mangroves – salt-water loving trees that sit partially submerged in the ocean – are a habitat for juvenile scalloped hammerheads.

“The restored mangroves in Golfo Dulce area are nursery grounds that offer food and protection to the juvenile scalloped hammerhead sharks from predators,” said Ilena Zanella, the Director of Mision Tiburon. “The societal awareness on shark conservation via mangrove restoration and ocean literacy provides [local communities] with an opportunity to protect these endangered species for the future of our planet.”

Source: UNEP