Mangrove forests are among the world’s most underappreciated ecosystems. Yet these coastline barriers are crucial to our survival — they protect us from the ever-worsening storms.
Along with rainforests, and coral reefs, peatlands, and seagrass meadows, mangroves have also managed to catch the scientific community’s attention as the effects of extreme climatic events, human activities and invasive species (among others) take their toll on these largely misunderstood ecosystems. Mangrove forests are forests capable of living in high salinity, oxygen-poor soil in coastal intertidal zones.
While covering approximately 0.1% of Earth’s land surface, mangrove forests support a wide range of biodiversity (including endemic, endangered and keystone species), purify water, reduce erosion, mitigate flooding, and provide both natural products and income sources which are essential for the livelihoods of millions of people around the world. They are also one of the largest blue carbon stocks on the planet, accounting for 10-15% percent of coastal blue carbon (from the atmosphere and oceans) burial on Earth, and thus playing a vital role in mitigating climate change and stabilizing the carbon cycle.
Mangrove forests in worldwide decline
Mangrove coverage is being lost globally at a rate of 1% per year and it´s estimated that 50% of the world’s mangrove forests have already been lost. These ecosystems are resilient and capable of quickly adapting to naturally changing environmental conditions, but are vulnerable to the direct and indirect effects of human activities — which account for most losses in recent decades. Just as with rainforests, when mangrove forests are damaged, carbon dioxide buried beneath them re-enters the atmosphere. Mounting evidence shows that adverse, long-term economic and social impacts from mangrove forest destruction end up being more significant than the initial short-term benefits received from land conversion.
“These ecosystems are not only a vital component in efforts to fight climate change, but they also protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people from extreme weather and provide them with a source of food and income.”
Greg Stone, Senior Vice President of Marine Programmes at Conservation International.
Conserving and rehabilitating mangrove forests is key, and the correct ecosystem management and protection can easily go hand in hand with development. There are, in fact, a growing number of initiatives around the globe with goals aiming towards providing knowledge, ensuring mangrove forest restoration, and seeking both policy and science-based solutions to better protect them. IUCN aims to support these initiatives through the Global Mangrove Alliance and the Bonn Challenge, to help raise global understanding and awareness of the importance of mangrove forests and strengthen international cooperation.
With their pungent smell, dark, mosquito-ridden waters and alien-looking vegetation, mangrove forests are not one of the most likable environments on the planet. Yet it is vitally important to recognize that these coastal ecosystems deliver essential and unquantified benefits by doing things no other ecosystem does. Saving them, as an end goal, requires that we start by learning to appreciate their unique qualities and value.
To know more about mangrove forests, learn what’s been done to save them or get involved, follow events such as the International Conference on Sustainable Mangroves Ecosystem (CIFOR).
Written by: Clara Gómez
Style and format: Lila García y Clara Gómez
Provita Oct 16, 2018