In the context of sustainable development, both developed and developing countries are implementing policies that encourage economic growth, environmental protection and social well-being in resource decisions. According to the 2012 Rio+20 Declaration, market-based instruments that complement regulations can offer an economically efficient push to sustainable growth. Market-based instruments, such as payments for ecosystem services (PES) and other market incentives, may play a crucial role in enhancing the livelihoods and wider well-being of poor people. However, for economic tools such as PES to prove valuable in managing natural resources, the decision-making and implementation processes must integrate adequate rights allocation and participatory mechanisms. This article examines forest ecosystem services in the context of the mangrove reserve forest of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the largest remaining areas of mangroves in the world with an exceptional level of biodiversity. The article argues for a more realistic and equitable approach to PES projects in Bangladesh. It underscores the need for effective participatory tools, third-party monitoring and multi-service PES schemes to improve multiple mangrove ecosystem services in the Sundarbans.