Meet the agents of change: Brian Parry

Brian Parry is General Manager at UAE based eco-tourism and education company Quest for Adventure. He explores the critical role that mangroves play in climate change mitigation and adaptation; and how sustainable tourism can help drive positive action.

Is there enough awareness of the role of mangroves in carbon sequestration, and what is being done at a global level to address this?

Mangroves are incredibly efficient at sequestering carbon, storing it in their biomass and in the sediment below. They are, however, under threat from deforestation, coastal development, and climate change, which can release stored carbon back into the atmosphere and diminish their capacity to sequester more.

If we look at the UAE and the environmental educational mangrove tours we run at Quest for Adventure, we have seen a steady increase in guest awareness in recent years, but there is still much work to be done to ensure widespread understanding and action.

At a global level, several initiatives and actions are being taken to address the importance of mangroves and their role in carbon sequestration. International agreements and frameworks like the Paris Agreement include recognition of the role of coastal ecosystems, including mangroves, in climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

Educating local communities and students about the importance of mangroves for carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services can help build support for conservation efforts and sustainable management practices.

What role does sustainable tourism and the eco-tourism programmes run by companies like Quest for Adventure play in advancing positive climate action?

Sustainable tourism plays a crucial role in advancing positive climate action by promoting responsible travel practices that minimise environmental impact, conserve natural resources, and support local communities. By integrating education, engagement, and action into our eco-tourism experiences, we are helping to contribute to positive climate action and inspire visitors to become responsible stewards of the planet.

At Quest for Adventure, we organise outdoor adventure trips - led by highly qualified guides - linked to education curriculums, helping ensure children are introduced to these global challenges from a young age and educated on the importance of preserving, protecting, and enhancing these crucial ecosystems.

Hands-on experiences are incredibly important in helping encourage positive change, from local conservation projects such as mangrove planting to participation in eco-friendly activities such as beach clean-ups and tree planting. Individuals can also contribute by supporting organisations working on mangrove conservation and advocating for policies that protect coastal ecosystems; as well as reducing their own carbon footprint to mitigate climate change.

These activities not only contribute directly to environmental conservation but also foster a deeper connection to nature and a sense of responsibility towards its protection.

Since 2019, we have delivered mangrove tree planting and public environmental experiences to over 8,000 individual participants and hosted over 60 corporate sponsors, resulting in the planting of over 130,000 mangrove trees across the UAE and Africa. This has been guided and supported by the UAE authorities and aligned with the national target of ensuring that the UAE has over 100 million mangroves across its territories by 2030.

The high cost of mangrove restoration and maintenance can be a deterrent to government investment. What economic benefits can mangrove forests deliver?

At a local level, mangrove forests linked to educational sustainable tourism support job creation. Mangrove forests like the Al Zorah Nature Reserve in Ajman, UAE, where we operate, attract tourists and nature enthusiasts, providing opportunities for recreational activities such as birdwatching, kayaking, and ecotourism. This helps stimulate local economies by creating tourism-related industries, generating revenue from visitor fees, and supporting local hospitality services.

In the UAE, responsibility for agriculture and fisheries falls under the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) and this demonstrates government commitment to finding solutions to ensure mangrove restoration and maintenance is key to securing economic benefits.

Investment into supporting healthy mangrove ecosystems also encourages abundant fish populations and are home to many fish nurseries, which directly benefit local fisheries by enhancing fishery productivity and providing a sustainable source of income for coastal communities. 

Officially launched at COP27, the Mangrove Breakthrough initiative aims to restore and protect 15 million hectares of mangroves globally by 2030. Are we on track globally to meet this goal?

At COP28 a formal partnership was announced between the Mangrove Alliance for Climate and the Mangrove Breakthrough. Supported by 49 governments, representing around 60 per cent of the world’s mangroves, and over 50 non-state actors, commitments were made towards realising 15-million-hectare target. This partnership represents significant progress in achieving the global goal and is underpinned by the goal of securing US$4 billion worth of new investments by 2030.

Accusations of greenwashing persist across the sustainable tourism sector; what needs to be done to ensure that companies commit, and results are measured and accountable?

Greenwashing in sustainable tourism is a significant concern. Deceptive practices that make companies appear more environmentally friendly or socially responsible than they actually are is misleading for consumers and sadly undermines genuine sustainability efforts.

Companies must be transparent when communicating their sustainability initiatives: including goals, practices, and outcomes. Independent verification and certification can help ensure accountability and build trust with consumers.

Government and industry bodies globally need to establish clear regulations and standards for sustainable tourism, including guidelines for environmental practices and transparency in marketing. Robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are necessary to track the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives and ensure that companies are meeting their commitments. This involves measuring environmental indicators, assessing social impacts, and soliciting feedback from local communities and visitors.

Consumers also need to be educated about greenwashing and empowered to distinguish genuine sustainability efforts from superficial ones. Increased awareness can help drive demand for truly sustainable tourism experiences and put pressure on companies to improve their practices.

By taking these steps, the sustainable tourism sector can combat greenwashing, build credibility, and make genuine progress toward a more sustainable future.

What are your hopes – and outlook – for the future through to 2050 for mangrove forests and tidal wetlands?

My hope is that they will receive increasing recognition for their critical role in maintaining coastal ecosystems and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Ideally, by 2050, there will be significant efforts worldwide to conserve and restore these ecosystems.

With growing awareness of the importance of mangroves and tidal wetlands, I envision increased investment in research, conservation initiatives, and sustainable management practices. This could lead to improved understanding of these ecosystems and better strategies for their protection. 

As technology advances, I anticipate the development of innovative solutions to support mangrove and tidal wetland conservation efforts, including remote sensing techniques for monitoring ecosystem health, as well as engineering solutions to adapt to rising sea levels and other climate-related challenges.

I also hope to see further collaboration among governments, NGOs, local communities, and businesses, to address the various threats facing mangroves and tidal wetlands such as deforestation, pollution, and sea-level rise. By working together, we can develop holistic approaches to ensure the long-term health and resilience of these ecosystems.

Overall, my outlook for the future of mangrove forests and tidal wetlands is cautiously optimistic. While they face significant threats, I believe that with concerted global action, we can safeguard these invaluable ecosystems for future generations.