Sri Lanka's prime minister has suggested that mangroves' ability to quickly absorb carbon makes the trees key to the fight against climate change.
Speaking on the first anniversary of a project to protect the country's mangrove trees, prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stated that the forests also provide vital habitats for fish and help protect communities from the impact of tsunamis and other natural weather phenomena.
The comments come ahead of World Mangrove Day, when the country's president is due to open the world's first mangrove museum to be used as a hub for conservation training for adults and education on the value of mangroves for children.
The museum is to become part of a five-year programme to protect the island's mangroves, which will include the introduction of mangrove forest conservation into Sri Lanka's national curriculum.
Commenting on the programme, Ranil Wickremesinghe said: "It is my belief that the mangrove restoration project will generate much-needed awareness among key stakeholders such as the community, leisure sector personnel, tourists, and the general public."
He added: "It is my hope that this will be the beginning of a long-term effort to sustain the mangroves for greater conservation benefit."
Working in partnership with conservation organisation Seacology and NGO Sudeesa, the Sri Lankan government has surveyed almost half of the mangrove forests in the country and identified all of the 15,000 trees currently on the island.
According to Seacology executive director Duane Silverstein, the US $3.4 million of funding required is justified by the benefits of the forests to the ecosystem. A recent UN report has estimated that mangroves store around 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass and local soil. In light of these results, Seacology estimates that the 15,000 hectares of mangroves in Sri Lanka are removing 15 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year.