Forests help our planet breathe by absorbing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. This process produces oxygen which is then absorbed by other living organisms. Along with the ocean, the biodiversity found in forests makes them an essential part of the fight against global warming. However, some forests are threatened more than others by human activities around the world.
Mangroves are tropical trees that live in coastal forests and thrive in brackish or salty water. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report discusses the risks of climate change to ocean and coastal ecosystems which include mangroves. They are among the least protected ecosystems because they usually grow on public land. Therefore, it is up to us to fight for their preservation, as mangroves play a critical role in nature’s coastal defense.
Over the last few decades, scientists have begun to consider the importance of mangrove forests as a “blue carbon” ecosystem due to their ability to accumulate and store carbon sediments. They take 5 times more carbon out of the atmosphere than forests on land. However, mangroves directly impact communities in more ways than carbon sequestration in their muddy bottom.
Mangroves don’t look like rainforest trees because they have adapted to the oxygen-poor soil found along the coast of tropical regions. Their tangled, curved roots allow them to handle the daily rise and fall of the tides. Unfortunately, when storm surges make an impact on mangrove trees and subsequently destroy those at the edge, it takes a long time for these mangroves to recover, leaving communities vulnerable to future natural disasters.
As a habitat, mangroves attract fish and other aquatic organisms seeking food and protection from predators. People living in coastal areas get their food from fishing and shellfish picking, while other organisms essential to the food web breed in mangrove roots. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) determines that mangroves are living nurseries for the world’s seafood supply.
Additionally, coastal ecosystems are under constant threat from agriculture and aquaculture programs. While these income-generating activities are beneficial to communities, it is often at the cost of mangrove deforestation. As populations rise, so does our dependence on trees for food, medicines, fuel, and lumber. Charcoal production and ecotourism are essential economic activities, but how do we balance the need for livelihood and environmental protection?
According to the UNEP, protecting mangroves is 1000 times cheaper per kilometer than building sea walls. However, the best solution is a combination of man-made interventions and natural approaches to forest restoration. Understanding the genetic makeup of mangrove forests helps conservationists to select native seedlings that will promote their biodiversity.
Supporting local policies and enforcing laws are also vital to keeping mangroves where they should be. This involves proposing alternative locations for shrimp farms and tourist routes so as not to disturb the living environment. Investments in research and community development can also positively impact the protection of mangroves in the long term. Finally, as consumers, we can choose more sustainable products by reading the label and knowing where our food comes from.
The earth’s forests, along with its oceans, absorb enormous amounts of the carbon dioxide that circulates in the atmosphere. In fighting the climate crisis, mangroves serve as tropical coast guards against rising sea levels which are a result of rising global temperatures. Our role is to ensure that we protect our forests for future generations who rely on healthy ecological diversity.