Mangrove Restoration: Do We Know Enough?



Mangrove restoration projects have been attempted, with mixed results, throughout the world. In this paper, I first examine goals of existing mangrove restoration projects and determine whether these goals are clear and adequate, and whether or not they account for the full range of biological diversity and ecological processes of mangrove ecosystems. Many restored mangrove forests resemble forest plantations rather than truly integrated ecosystems, but mangrove plantations can be a first step toward mangrove rehabilitation. Mangrove restoration projects that involve associated aquaculture or mariculture operations tend to be more likely to approximate the biological diversity and ecological processes of undisturbed mangrove ecosystems than are projects that focus only on the trees. These integrated restoration projects also provide a higher economic return than do silvicultural projects alone. Second, I briefly assess whether existing ecological data are sufficient to undergird successful restoration of mangal and define criteria for determining whether or not a mangrove ecosystem has been restored successfully. These criteria include characteristics of vegetation (forest) structure, levels of primary production, composition of associated animal communities, and hydrology. Finally, I suggest ways to improve mangrove restoration projects and identify key research needs required to support these efforts. Ecological theories derived from other wetland and upland systems rarely have been applied to either “basic” or “applied” mangrove forest studies, to the detriment of restoration projects, whereas lessons from restoration of the relatively species-poor mangrove ecosystems could be beneficially applied to restoration projects in other contexts. An international database of mangrove restoration projects would reduce the likelihood that unsuccessful restoration projects would be repeated elsewhere. Clear criteria for evaluating success, greater accessibility of information by managers in the developing world, intensified international cooperation, and application of relevant ecological theories will improve the success rate of mangrove restoration projects.