Mangrove restoration not only has the potential to protect communities from extreme climate events, but it can also revitalize ecosystems, generate sustainable employment and strengthen social cohesion.

Coastal communities face unique challenges due to their vulnerability to climate change and their social, economic, political and environmental contexts. Many communities depend on ecosystems to sustain their livelihoods through tourism or fishing; both industries are easily disrupted by rising sea levels, storms and environmental degradation. High rates of poverty, limited education and unclear land ownership rights further complicate their reliance on and relationship with natural habitats. Mangrove restoration, conservation and community management strategies can help neighborhoods adapt to climate change while providing them with multiple benefits.

Our team conducted a series of workshops and interviews to analyze the community experiences that have been part of coastal wetland restoration and conservation initiatives or are members of the RE3CO (Restoration and Conservation of Coastal Wetlands and Community Development) initiative in Isla Arena, Campeche – including; Sisal, Yucatan; El Palmar, Tabasco; and La Ventanilla, Oaxaca. The interviews emphasized local impacts that mangrove restoration offers to communities, such as perceived social, environmental, as well as short, medium and long-term economic benefits.

Graphic showing benefits of community mangrove restoration and management.

Main Benefits of Community Mangrove Restoration and Management

Environmental Benefits

Following this exercise, we found that 63% of respondents believe that restored mangroves protected them from hurricanes, floods and high winds, reducing the economic and social impact of hydrometeorological phenomena. Community efforts restoring and cleaning water channels allowed them to replenish dry mangroves, as well as welcome back species of birds, reptiles and fish to the habitat.

A group of women at a workshop.
A group of women attend a workshop on ecosystems and community-based adaptation in Pantanos de Centla, Tabasco. Photo by Sarai Rodriguez / WRI

Erika Nogueda, a resident of Ejido El Palmar, Tabasco, said, “We started to see that the birds built their nests or that snails started to lay their eggs in the roots. We went last week and we saw how tilapia fish went to spawn, and it was not one but thousands of them, and that is really exciting for us. We see the results.”

The communities also reported improved water quality and local temperature regulation. Carbon capture and rejuvenating mangrove ecosystem services were identified as long-term benefits.

Economic Benefits

Restoration not only revitalizes natural environments, but also local economies. Tourism and fishing are seasonal activities that have seen a decline in recent years — due to increased travel costs, overfishing, lack of regulations and climate change — while restoration jobs provide a reliable income stream. For women involved in the associated restoration work — such as collecting propagules, nursery maintenance or channel expansion — this added gender perspective provides additional income to households.

Those interviewed agreed that restoration workdays boost their earnings by 10% to 50%. In certain cases, households rely entirely on seasonal wages, with women working in restoration sometimes contributing 100% of household income. Dependence on temporary jobs is not ideal in terms of economic diversification. Various initiatives, including RE3CO, aim to use mangrove conservation for local communities to maintain good-paying jobs once the initial restoration work is finished.

The number of direct jobs created by restoration projects is highly variable, given that it depends on the number of hectares of mangrove land to be restored, the initial state of the mangroves and the restoration plan, among other factors. In addition, projects can last from one to ten years. In places where the projects have made greater progress, mangrove care and surveillance activities are also carried out, like ecotourism and creating employment alternatives to fishing, and they are maintained once the restoration projects conclude.

Social Benefits

Based on the interviews conducted, 71% of people said that restoration projects resulted in a positive impact; from the way communities are organized to the newly employed, opening a possibility to a better future. The communal land users of Ejido El Palmar mentioned that, in the last nine years, their organization has improved due to the workshops, projects and training support. They also believe that those benefits are not limited to the group working directly on the project, but that they extend to the entire community. They see more cohesion among the inhabitants and there is a strong community commitment toward the restoration projects.

However, different communities perceive these benefits equally. About 30% of the people interviewed at Sisal believe that the projects have failed to involve everyone in the community and that some people’s interest in participating is solely for the income they receive.

In general, people believe that restoration benefits are divided into direct and indirect. The former are about the daily wage payments to people working on the restoration, and the latter refer to the benefits that come from a healthy ecosystem, such as increased fishing, tourism and non-timber use. The people of La Ventanilla, Oaxaca mentioned the project management assignments may cause friction between cooperatives, so the goal is to equitably distribute assignments and, thus, the benefits. For example, the sudden influx of money could cause disagreements between the recipients and those who do not participate. That is why the co-creation of projects and the active participation of different groups throughout the restoration initiatives are vital to the long-term success of the projects and maintaining the fabric of society.

Gender Perspective

Multiple communities pointed to the positive changes that women have experienced because of their participation in these projects. In Ejido El Palmar, only the men benefited financially from the restoration projects — until women began participating in workshops in 2019, followed by when they physically worked on the projects starting in 2021.

Communities agreed that women have traditionally played a specific, yet limited role in the community. Restoration was originally conceived as a male job, due to its physically demanding nature. However, women have since joined the restoration work, contributing to the care of their environment and earning income for their families. This has generated gender equity into other aspects of their lives. For example, some husbands have taken on household chores that were typically left to their wives, such as cooking and childcare.

Sebastiana Molina, a resident of Ejido El Palmar, Tabasco explained how restoration work allowed men in the community to explore a different side of themselves.

“We had a small problem, which was the macho culture. Today, I can earn a workday wage like a man. If we can’t use a machete, we can pick up a propagule and sow. For us, well, it is the best thing that can happen to us.”

Two women presenting in a workshop.
Two women present at a workshop in Pantanos de Centla, Tabasco. Photo by Sarai Rodriguez / WRI

Women also mentioned that they have learned about mangroves through trainings and fieldwork. They have learned how to select the propagules and identify which ones are suitable and how they are planted. They noted pride in their newfound knowledge and how they help improve their environment. In places such as La Ventanilla, there has been a greater interest by women in the restoration work.

In Ejido El Palmar, men and women now have equal opportunity to assist the ejido progress. In Isla Arena, Campeche, the women of the Carey cooperative hope to add more women into ecotourism activities and bird watching training.

Men benefit from having steady work and the possibility of additional income via the revitalized fishing and ecotourism industries, as well as the mangroves support. Faustino, from the La Ventanilla community in Oaxaca, found that restoration is both a job and a way of being in touch with nature. “Every day, you can sit by the lagoon, see the crocodiles, and relax,” he said.

Planting mangroves.
A man in Ventanilla, Oaxaca with newly planted mangroves. Photo by Sarai Rodriguez / WRI

Finally, children benefit by participating in workshops or joining their parents in their restoration work and trainings. They develop environmental awareness and learn the vocation for conservation and sustainable management. Those interviewed highlighted how important it is for children and youth to be involved in these issues, as it is the future of their territories and homes.

Paths to Boost Benefits

To enhance the social, environmental and economic benefits of community mangrove restoration and management, people who shared their experiences offered some solutions: Increased financing, monitoring, follow-up and ongoing training. They also discussed the importance of strengthening community engagement and organization processes, increased youth and childhood inclusion and the collaboration with neighboring and distant communities. Finally, they expressed how essential the regulation of services by local authorities is.

Community mangrove restoration and management is an essential response to climate change challenges, and a catalyst for significant benefits for coastal communities. Mangrove restoration has the potential to protect communities from extreme climate events, and it can also revitalize ecosystems, generate sustainable employment and strengthen social cohesion.

The environmental, economic and social benefits seen through these interviews highlight the importance of integrating gender-based restoration strategies and encouraging active, community-wide participation. However, it’s clear that any intervention must address challenges such as equity in profit sharing and the proper management of financial resources.

There is room for improvement in the implementation of mangrove management and restoration projects. Collaboration between key stakeholders is essential so that the benefits of these actions are distributed equitably in the communities and do not exacerbate pre-existing problems. In this context, the call for greater funding, monitoring, continuous training and above all, co-creation and community leadership are presented as clear pathways to boosting the positive impacts of restoration and to ensure a sustainable future for coastal communities and their mangroves.

WRI Mexico works with community organizations, government, the private sector, academia and other allies to promote restoration actions and community management of mangroves in the region. Through the RE3CO initiative, we work with coastal communities to restore and conserve the country’s mangroves.