Celebrating Mangrove Ecosystems Conservation Day with the Forest Conservation Fund
Photo by Dan Maisey
9 august ‘22
To celebrate Mangrove Ecosystems Conservation Day on July 26th, we had the wonderful opportunity to interview Charlotte Opal from the Forest Conservation Fund and learned more about their inspiring progress and direct ties to mangrove conservation.
Words by Emma Hastie
Photo by Dave Hoefler
We had the lovely opportunity to interview and meet Charlotte Opal, the Executive Director of the Forest Conservation Fund, which is a new NGO headquartered in Switzerland that works to link donors to conservation projects. As stated by Charlotte, “we're really focusing on projects that are on the frontier of agricultural developments. So in landscapes where there's maybe cocoa buying happening, or aquaculture, where the forests are at risk of conversion… we find companies or individuals…that have a link with…that supply chain or are interested in that country or that ecosystem, and then we link them with the projects and we pass the funding through.” This is what differentiates the Forest Conservation Fund from other NGOs with similar missions and goals. They work “to make that direct link.” This is why they “have a suite of projects” that differ in their ties to ecosystems, commodities, and countries, “so that donors can really find something that they feel connected to.” Their organization connects these projects to donors and then implements “a monitoring program to make sure…the money is used in the way” that it’s supposed to be used. Their main task is “to build this bridge” and link together funding and “great progress” to help protect our beautiful world and all it has to offer.
Photo by Roberto Nickson
Nature Needs Half
Another goal of the Forest Conservation Fund is “trying to get companies to…proactively protect [forests], not just go ‘deforestation free; ’we call it ‘forest positive.’” Charlotte also described how “a lot of people think we can separate ourselves from nature, but we can't...first, we need nature for so many things, pollinating our favorite crops, cleaning our water, cooling the air” and much more. This connects to the movement named “Nature Needs Half, which is about trying to save half the earth for nature, for the 9 to 10 million species…besides homosapiens, and then half for us.” She then describes how half of the planet is still wild, “but that means that we really have to move these areas that aren't protected into protection or where they may be protected on paper, but no one's actually patrolling them.” The only way they are going to achieve this Nature Needs Half “is by working with local communities, and especially indigenous people who have been living in the forest for millennia…and are…the best stewards of forests.” As Charlotte stated, “all of our projects have a very strong community engagement component, most of our projects are on lands…directly owned or managed by the [local] communities.” “The other thing is that conservation doesn't work if the local community is not supportive of it…so you really have to have their support.” Charlotte also shared that there have been many studies looking into parks and indigenous managed areas and these studies have shown that “the indigenous managed areas are more intact, and have higher biodiversity, higher biodiversity than…the national parks, which is a pretty serious criticism of national parks,” which is also why supporting and working with these local communities is so important.
When shifting the interview towards the discussion of mangrove conservation, Charlotte shared that “mangroves are mostly disappearing” and described that “mangroves are just really special because they're on the edge of different types of soil and salinity in the water and…there's…really unique species that use those areas, so mangroves are very rich for biodiversity.” They also store a lot of carbon. Mangroves are also a valuable necessity for local communities’ survival and also serve as protection from tsunamis and the rising sea levels. “Mangroves really protect [these communities] from the sea,” and these communities understand “that they need to save [mangroves] if they want to save themselves and their villages.” A current project of the Forest Conservation Fund tied to mangrove conservation is where they work with a local NGO that consists of 3 villages of which were “recognized five years ago by the Indonesian government as the managers of a huge area of mangroves.” They have a lot of plans such as closing “the fishery to help it recover a few months of the year,” conducting patrols to “catch illegal fishers or loggers,” and monitoring biodiversity. Charlotte also added that the Forest Conservation Fund also has a strong commitment to “community empowerment” and described how “the goal is really for the villages and the community…[and] the conservation leaders to be able to advocate for their forests.” Another issue facing these communities are the “pesticides running out into their mangroves” from nearby plantations, and the Forest Conservation Fund wants to empower these communities to stand up against this. They want to “partner with communities for the long term” because these communities “will always need conservation funding” to protect their communities and also make moves towards sustainability.
Photo by James Donaldson
Photo by James Donaldson
Photo by Anton Lecock
When shifting towards the discussion of sustainability, Charlotte described that the Forest Conservation Fund doesn’t necessarily have their own, exact definition of sustainability, but in her own eyes, she believes sustainability to be a “journey.” She elaborates on how this journey consists of “responsible sourcing” and “responsible producers.” Companies' need an understanding of “all the impacts of their buying and their supply chain or their operations” and must be “trying to improve on them” constantly. She also added that the Forest Conservation Fund “can't be tied to the fossil fuel industry” or “ the pesticide industry” for example, nor can they work with companies who will be using them “for greenwashing.”
The Carbon Talk
When it comes to the biggest challenge the Forest Conservation Fund has faced so far, Charlotte described how “there’s a lot of talk about carbon, but forests, and mangroves especially, are about so much more than carbon.” She then adds that “despite deforestation being 10% of carbon emissions, it's really hard to get credit for protecting forests” and describes her frustration of how their “projects are really too small to get certified for carbon,” considering that their projects have so many more benefits beyond just carbon. “That's been the most frustrating thing” but “we're not letting it stop us,” stated Charlotte adamantly. “We're just…pivoting to…target different types of companies that are…talking more about biodiversity” and fully understand the necessity of these forests.
Photo by Bernard Hermant
Photo by Bernard Hermant
Image source: @nature_org
Image source: @nature_org
If you are looking to get involved and take action, you can always support and donate to the Forest Conservation Fund! Charlotte also described how you should allow yourself to “fall in love with [forests]” and when you travel, she recommends “visiting parks, visiting private protected areas and geo-protected areas…to show them that there's interest and support them financially…I would always include that on any itinerary. Take a nature trip whenever you're traveling.” She also recommends consciously considering your impact as an individual in your daily life. For example, “try to eat a lot less meat and dairy…Try to buy organic fairtrade…Those are decisions that we take every day that have an impact.” You have the power to make a difference and make a change in this world. We hope that the Forest Conservation Fund’s progress and missions can inspire you to take action in protecting our beautiful planet and home!
To learn more about the Forest Conservation Fund, click here!