Mangrove forests are biodiverse ecosystems found in the intertidal zones of tropical and sub-tropical regions. These forests provide benefits to human society that are worth billions of dollars globally, such as serving as fish nurseries, providing coastal protection from flooding, and storing massive amounts of carbon. Despite their importance to both human livelihoods and biodiversity, humans have cut down huge areas of mangroves, often to permanently convert these areas to aquaculture or cropland. The Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) Ecoregion extends south from the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico through coastal and offshore areas of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Despite having nearly half of its mangroves included in protected areas, this region still sees extensive mangrove loss due to humans and this loss may be negatively impacting local fisheries that people rely on for income and food supply. Our research objective is to assess whether spatial heterogeneity in rates of mangrove loss can be explained by indicators of conversion pressure, effectiveness of mangrove governance, and the degree to which local communities value mangroves and are empowered to protect them. We will use harmonized Landsat and Sentinel-2 satellite imagery as the foundation for mapping mangrove extent annually and identifying loss hotspots across a 10-year time period. This work will use dense time series of satellite imagery and extraction of phenological metrics to improve mapping of mangrove extent by leveraging the unique local vegetation phenology and tidal dynamics of mangrove areas. We will explore the relationship between rates of mangrove loss and socioeconomic indicators using primarily data from USAID’s Demographic and Health Survey Program (DHS) – focusing on key context such as community wealth, land ownership, employment, population density, and road density. Finally, we will use key informant interviews in coastal communities of all four MAR countries to assess the impacts of governance, stakeholder representation, and people’s perceptions of mangrove-derived benefits on mangrove loss. Our overall goals are to improve delineation and understanding of mangrove loss hotspots, facilitate timely management interventions by sharing maps and open source analysis workflows, and integrating social science research to help resolve the socioeconomic conditions, governance structures, and stakeholder engagement scenarios that best foster the preservation of mangroves. Through collaboration and information sharing with our resource management partners in the region, these efforts should ultimately reduce rates of mangrove loss throughout the MAR while providing a blueprint for understanding and addressing anthropogenic mangrove loss in other areas globally.
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