If the past week or two hasn’t made you think about the power of nature, then I don’t know what would. Between the tragic earthquake/tsunami in Japan and on a much more minor scale, the unusual amount of rain here in the San Francisco area, we are obviously at the mercy of Mother Nature. This past Tuesday was World Water Day, a time to reflect on how much we rely on this critical resource, but I’m a little soaked from our rain and would rather turn my attention to another vital part of our natural world that is often overlooked – mangroves.
Mangrove forests are useful because they filter out pollution, act as nurseries for fish populations, and protect shorelines during storms, including tsunamis. Mangroves include trees, palms, and shrubs. Unfortunately mangroves are under threat due to human encroachment and activities such as coastal development (homes, hotels), logging, shrimp farms and other types of aquaculture and agriculture. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), more than one in six mangrove species worldwide are in danger of extinction due to these reasons, and 11 out of 70 mangrove species (16 percent) are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The good news/bad news is that mangroves can play an integral part in coping with climate change and the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in our air. IUCN states that mangroves have a staggering ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and serve as both a source and repository for nutrients and sediments for other inshore marine habitats, such as seagrass beds and coral reefs. Scientific American recently ran an article on this, noting that mangroves, along with salt marshes and sea grasses (referred to as “blue carbon”), are able to soak up to five times more carbon than tropical forests.
While mankind is only beginning to understand and appreciate the role this part of the ecosystem can play in our lives, we are at the same time busy wiping them out. For a detailed assessment of oceans, coastal habitats, and tackling climate change, see the UN report Blue Carbon: The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon.
Specifically, in India and Southeast Asia, 80 percent of all mangrove area has been lost over the past 60 years. Mangroves in India are under threat for all the reasons listed above, but especially due to human encroachment, including farming and reliance on firewood from mangrove forests.
Instead of degrading and destroying the earth’s ecosystems in the name of development, we should be doing our utmost to protect them, which in turn will protect ourselves.