Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio is supporting the expansion of an award-winning Edinburgh Napier University conservation project in Kenya.
The university initiative was included in a round of grants from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation which were announced by the film star at a conference at Yale University.
Mikoko Pamoja – ‘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 the Foundation he established to try to repeat the project’s success in the Vanga Blue Forest area of the east African country.
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation works with environmental experts, organisations and philanthropists to protect threatened ecosystems, and has gradually built a significant international grant-making operation.
Addressing a Yale climate change conference last week, hosted by former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s Kerry Initiative, LDF chairman DiCaprio said they were proud to support the environmental work of more than 100 organisations at home and abroad.
He added: “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 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.
The project was hailed as an “outstanding example of nature-based local solutions to sustainable development”, as it was named as one of 15 winners of the Equator Prize 2017 at a high-profile ceremony in New York earlier this month.
Now a new mangrove conservation project will take the successful model of tree planting, forest conservation, sale of carbon credits and investment in community projects to Vanga on Kenya’s south coast, with the Foundation grant covering start-up costs.
Professor Mark Huxham, who is leading Edinburgh Napier’s work in the area, 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.
“We are grateful for the support and confident that our model of grassroots engagement combined with the sale of unique carbon credits will succeed here.”
Leonardo DiCaprio established his Foundation in 1998 with the aim of protecting the world’s last wild places. The organisation works on the most pressing environmental issues of the day, and has handed out more than $80million in grants.
Last week’s announcement saw $20 million awarded to more than 100 organisations involved in wildlife and ocean conservation, protecting indigenous rights, combating climate change and tackling environmental problems.