Mangroves. What? Exactly.
We learn about the environmental properties of oceans and coral reefs, forests and grasslands, but what about blending all of that together? Before learning about Wildcoast, a conservation company based in San Diego, and their restoration efforts in Baja California I was unfamiliar with mangroves, but to describe them as ecosystems where the ocean and land meet would be a good start.
Mangroves are a form of tropical wetland, they can be found among tropical and subtropical coastlines, where salt-tolerant trees thrive in marshes where salt and fresh water collide. There are many different types of mangroves depending on where they reside, whether it be in the Maldives or Florida, etc. Typically however, these trees have long roots that intertwine in the marshy mud, their tree limbs are lush with foliage, and they’re the keepers of extremely biodiverse ecosystems.
Wherever they reside in the world, Mangroves provide a myriad of benefits to their residing communities. Mangroves are home to beautiful biodiversity, nurseries for many endangered species, water filtration, protection from weather disasters, economic livelihoods, and all the while play an important role in fighting climate change.
Biodiversity and Nurseries. The lush trees provide shelter and shade in tropical regions with shallow water and plant life rich with nutrients. All sorts of animals from birds, crocodiles, fish, crustaceans, turtles (the list goes on), find comfort in the unique environment rich with high level oxygen, decreased pollution, and protection from outside elements to breed and allow their youngsters to grow up protected before venturing out to sea or beyond. An estimated 80% of the global fish catch relies on mangrove forests either directly or indirectly. Mangroves are particularly important for the success of coral reefs. A study on the Mesoamerican reef, for example, showed that there are as many as 25 times more fish of some species on reefs close to mangrove areas than in areas where mangroves have been cut down.
Resources and Livelihoods. The lush wetlands play crucial roles in the worlds fisheries, while they’re also harvested for wood and other resources. According to a recent report, these goods and services are conservatively estimated to be worth US$186 million each year. Since the lush wetlands are hotspots for fish breeding they play an important role in the success of local fisheries. The water resistant wood is also useful as it’s proven to be resistant to fungi and pests, the leaves have also been harvested for animal food and medicinal purposes. Coastal, marine and inland wetlands are essential for over 1 billion people across the world to earn a living.
Environmental Protection. Perhaps the main quality that makes mangroves so unique and imperative that they be protected is the benefits they provide for the environment. The dense tropical marshes with deep roots are extremely successful in preventing erosion and protecting coasts from increased storm surge, flooding, and hurricanes. In 2003, it was estimated that a quarter of the world’s population lived within 100 kilometers of the coast and at 100 meters of sea level. Like coral reefs, mangroves pose as the first line of defense for coastal communities.
Mangroves are also champions in quite possibly my favorite environmental process, carbon sequestration. Mangroves sequester carbon at a rate two to four times greater than mature tropical forests and store three to five times more carbon per equivalent area than tropical forests like the Amazon rainforest. Studies found that mangrove soil held around 6.4 billion metric tons of carbon in 2000.
Another benefit that we as humans benefit from is the water purifying qualities a mangrove possesses. As pollutants find their way into mangroves the dense roots and mud filter the water as it continues upstream or back out into the ocean, which is why cleanup projects are an effective way for humans to preserve mangrove durability.
Threats Mangroves Face. Although up to a billion people worldwide rely on wetlands like mangroves to earn a living, they are declining fast; 40% of wetlands have been degraded in over 40 years according to the Wetland Extent Trend, and this decline is continuing at a 1.5% annually.
Since mangroves and other wetlands often reside in subtropical and tropical areas that rely on a unique balance to stay alive they are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, particularly rising sea levels. Mangroves also face human activity threats like clearing, over harvesting, over fishing, and excess pollution. Changes in rivers as caused by dams and irrigation can also mess with the salinity levels, rising levels much too fast for mangroves to adapt. Destruction of coral reefs also leaves mangroves less protected and more threatened by water surges and hurricanes.
Protecting the future of mangroves worldwide is essential in the fight against climate change and restoring biodiversity. Mangroves indirectly benefit the whole planet in its carbon storage superpowers but directly benefit millions living along coastal lines, not to mention the many endangered species that reside in the sheltering ecosystems. Recently, mangrove protection has been recognized as an important step for environmental conservation and a sustainable future, which is why companies like the Global Mangrove Alliance (GMA) was formed by some of the world’s biggest nature conservation organizations, including IUCN, with a goal to expand the world’s mangrove habitat 20% by 2030.
Although I personally do not encounter mangroves in my Californian backyard, I can always appreciate learning about how other parts of the world are home to lush ecosystems like mangroves. Next time I’m traveling I’ll appreciate them so much more, hopefully you will too.
References: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/southflorida/habitats/mangroves/importance-mangroves/, https://ecoviva.org/7-reasons-mangroves-matter/, https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/oceans/coasts/mangroves/mangrove_importance/, https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/oceans/coasts/mangroves/mangrove_threats/#:~:text=Threats%20to%20mangrove%20forests%20and%20their%20habitats%20include%3A&text=If%20salinity%20becomes%20too%20high,amount%20of%20sediment%20in%20rivers., https://wildcoast.org/redmangroves/, http://www.fao.org/3/ai387e/ai387e06.htm#:~:text=Mangroves%20are%20defined%20as%20assemblages,of%20accumulated%20deposits%20of%20mud., https://www.iucn.org/news/forests/201708/mangroves-nurseries-world%E2%80%99s-seafood-supply#:~:text=Mangrove%20forests%20are%20structurally%20diverse,well%20as%20rich%20seafood%20supplies.&text=These%20species%20are%20attracted%20to,and%20the%20refuge%20they%20provide., https://galapagosconservation.org.uk/the-importance-of-mangroves/