Mangroves are recognized for their valued ecosystem services provision while having the highest carbon density among forested ecosystems. Yet they are increasingly threatened by deforestation, conversion to agriculture and development, reducing the benefits they provide for local livelihoods, coastal protection and climate change mitigation. Accordingly, accurate estimates of mangrove area and change are fundamental for developing strategies for sustainable use, conservation and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+). The Zambezi River Delta in Mozambique contains one of the largest mangrove forests in Africa, and deforestation has been reported to be substantial, however these estimates vary widely. We used Landsat imagery from 1994, 2000 and 2013, to estimate a total current mangrove area of 37,034 ha, which is a net increase of 3723 ha over 19 years. The land cover change assessment was also used to provide perspective on ecosystem carbon stocks, showing that the Zambezi Delta mangrove ecosystem acts as a large carbon sink. Our findings reinforce the importance of conducting land cover change assessments using coherent data and analytical models, coupled with field validation. Broader application of our approach could help quantify the rates of natural change from erosion and land aggradation contrasted with anthropogenic causes.
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