Hollywood megastar backs conservation project

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Leonardo DiCaprio is supporting an ACES and Edinburgh Napier University initiative

25th September 2017 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Hollywood megastar Leonardo DiCaprio is supporting the expansion of an award-winning Scottish conservation project.

The Edinburgh Napier University initiative was included in a round of grants from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, announced by the Titanic star recently at a conference at Yale University.

Mikoko Pamoja, which means Mangroves Together in Swahili, involves Edinburgh-based scientists working with local villagers and researchers to protect threatened mangrove forests and fund community development.

The project in Kenya's Gazi Bay, 50km south of Mombasa, was recently named as a winner of the 2017 Equator Prize by the United Nations Development Programme.

Now The Revenant and Wolf of Wall Street actor has announced funding of $50,000 from his foundation to try to repeat the project's success in the Vanga Blue Forest area of the east African country.

The actor said: "These grantees are active on the ground, protecting our oceans, forests and endangered species for future generations – and tackling the urgent, existential challenges of climate change."

Mangrove forests protect coastal communities from storms and tsunamis and are efficient natural carbon sinks, locking and storing CO2 at up to five times the rate of tropical rainforests. They also form an important habitat for fish and wildlife.

However, they are being destroyed at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihoods of local farmers and fishermen and triggering the release of greenhouse gases.

The Mikoko Pamoja project has involved Edinburgh Napier staff and students working with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute in Gazi Bay to explore the ecological value of mangroves and methods of helping the ecosystem recover.

It raises money by selling carbon credits to people and organisations anxious to reduce their carbon footprint, through the Scottish charity the Association of Coastal Ecosystem Services (ACES). This supports the planting and conservation of mangrove trees as well as a community fund which has provided school buildings, textbooks and new sources of clean water.

Professor Mark Huxham said: "Protecting mangroves helps the people who rely on them, the wildlife that lives in them and the climate upon which we all depend.

"We have shown how scientists, government and local people can work together to conserve forests and improve lives at Gazi, our current site. This support from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation will help us expand our efforts to Vanga, the largest mangrove forest in southern Kenya, where local people have asked for our help in securing their forest for the future.

"The new funding will directly support a democratic community organisation which will mobilise volunteers and staff in tree protection, conservation monitoring, education and investment in local development.”