Mangroves, much more than meeting points of land and sea

During the 8th Our Ocean Conference, Audubon Americas, and Conservation International showcased two leading projects in Panama and Colombia, supported by the UK-Blue Carbon Fund, and administered by the Inter-American Development Bank.

The first week of March was great for the world's oceans and their conservation. While the United Nations member states reached an agreement and, after 20 years of talks, signed a landmark treaty on the High Seas at UN Headquarters in New York, a significant number of associated stakeholders gathered in Panama City, Panama, for the 8th Our Ocean Conference. The latter brought together government representatives, conservation organizations, cooperation agencies, foundations, the private sector, youth groups, and other representatives of civil society from 190 countries, focused on preserving and promoting the wise use of the seas and associated ecosystems.

The Conference provided space for a rich exchange on innovative conservation, pollution reduction, and sustainable fisheries initiatives. Nearly 341 commitments were delivered, including the future designation of new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the mobilization of around US$ 20 billion in finance.

While in the public's collective imagination, these gatherings are associated chiefly with purely oceanic or insular environments, Audubon Americas' main goal was to focus on the role of those ecosystems at the crucial meeting point between land and sea – marine-coastal ecosystems. These include mangroves, salt marshes, estuaries, and mudflats, providing critical habitats for shorebirds and all migratory and resident species.

In our Coastal Resilience Strategy framework, we carried out a joint side event with Conservation International Colombia, showcasing our organizations' UK-Blue Carbon Fund projects – AA's Blue Natural Heritage project in Panama and CI's Vida Manglar project in Colombia.

Through processes encompassing scientific research, community participation, environmental education, and policy engagement, the projects demonstrate the range of values and services mangroves provide for community livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, and the broader fight against climate change.

More specifically, Blue Natural Heritage shared our experience documenting the carbon stock in the Bay of Panama and Parita Bay - two critical Hemispheric sites for shorebirds due to the millions of migrating birds -some 177 species- that pass through the Isthmus of Panama, flying north or south of the Americas during their spring and fall migratory cycle. Developing these baselines is the first step in recognizing the mangroves' vast climate change mitigation service and the potential for advancing instruments in the carbon market. Conversely, equally important adaptation benefits emerging from the project were also highlighted, including an ecosystem service valuation, an Open Standards Conservation Plan (Parita Bay), acoustic monitoring of birds as indicators of ecosystem health, and other complementary studies that will inform how to both preserve and restore mangroves in Panama. Working closely with the Ministry of Environment, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), academic institutions, and our local partner Panama Audubon Society, we demonstrated how an integral approach supports Panama's implementation of its national climate change and biodiversity policies and, at the same time, it strengthens its international commitments (f.e. the Nationally Determined Contributions – NDCs) and contributes to the Global Mangrove Alliance's Mangrove Breakthrough.

Finally, building off our coastal work, we identified other opportunities for the National Audubon Society to contribute to ocean conservation. There is a clear linkage between the oceans conservation movement and our strategies, including Conserva Aves and the Pacific Shorebird Conservation Initiative.

While the development of new MPAs can incorporate technical know-how from our ongoing marine spatial planning and seabird conservation plan exercises. In short, it's time for us to grasp oceanic conservation ambitions and opportunities and turn them into action for the benefit of birds and people!