MANGROVE FORESTS ARE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ECOSYSTEMS ON EARTH AND PLAY AN ESSENTIAL ROLE IN TROPICAL AND SUBTROPICAL REGIONS IN BOTH HEMISPHERES.
Mangroves thrive in dense groves or forests along tidal estuaries, salt marshes, and muddy coastlines.
What makes mangroves so unique is their resilience. Thanks to a series of exceptional adaptations, they can withstand salt water, direct sunlight, changing tides, and the impact of waves.
Stilt-like aerial roots branching off the trunk supply support with the plant during gales, while pneumatophore roots emerge from the slushy, oxygen-poor water to directly capture atmospheric oxygen. Instead, Mangrove leaves can filter up to 90% of the salt in the water, and then be absorbed by the roots.
MANGROVE FORESTS SERVE AS BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOTS, ACTING AS BRIDGE BETWEEN THE SEA AND THE LAND.
One of the fascinating aspects of mangroves is the intricate network of roots that extends both above and below the water surface. Mangrove roots have a unique architecture, with numerous branching structures, prop roots, and pneumatophores (aerial roots). These features create a diverse array of microhabitats, providing attachment points and shelter for sessile organisms, including sponges, sea squirts (also known as tunicates), crinoids (feather stars), barnacles, oysters, anemones, and bryozoans. The underwater roots of mangroves also create a complex system of tunnels and cavities. These spaces serve as nurseries for the larvae of various fish species, providing them with a safe and protected environment to grow and develop. Fish such as barracuda, tarpon, and snook find shelter and protection among these underwater roots, allowing them to thrive. The dense root system also offers ample hiding places for small invertebrates such as crabs and crayfish, adding to the overall biodiversity of the mangrove ecosystem. The intricate relationships between mangroves and the diverse organisms they host demonstrate the interconnectedness and importance of these ecosystems in maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance.
Mudskippers (Oxudercinae) have developed an impressive set of physical adaptations that allow them to thrive in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. Their standout feature is their sturdy pectoral fins, which function like legs, enabling them to effectively "walk" across mudflats and even scale mangrove roots. While submerged in water, much like typical fish, mudskippers primarily rely on their gills to extract oxygen from the water. However, onto land, they employ alternative methods to obtain oxygen, including absorbing it through their skin, mouth and throat. Furthermore, they construct small burrows in the mud, serving as vital refuges during low tide, maintaining moisture levels, and offering protection from potential predators.
In addition to supporting marine life below the waterline, mangroves provide valuable nesting sites for coastal and migratory bird species. The branches and canopies of the outer mangroves are ideal places for birds to build their nests and raise their young. These avian visitors include herons, egrets, ibises, kingfishers, and many others. The mangroves' proximity to the water provides a convenient food source for these birds, which can easily access the rich marine life in the estuaries and surrounding coastal waters.
The intricate relationships between mangroves and the diverse organisms they host demonstrate the interconnectedness and importance of these ecosystems in maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance.
MANGROVE FORESTS ABSORB AND STORE LARGE AMOUNTS OF CARBON DIOXIDE FROM THE ATMOSPHERE, HELPING TO MITIGATE THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE.
Unlike terrestrial forests that primarily store carbon in trunks and branches, mangroves store most of their carbon in their root systems and adjacent soil. This characteristic makes them effective carbon sinks, locking away carbon for generations.
Destruction and deforestation of mangroves not only release this stored carbon back into the atmosphere but also result in the loss of a critical natural solution for combating climate change.
MANGROVE FORESTS ARE IMPORTANT TO THE LIVELIHOODS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE LIVING ALONG COASTLINES, PROVIDING FISH RESOURCES, AND PROTECTING COMMUNITIES FROM STORMS AND COASTAL EROSION.
The complex root structures and dense foliage of mangroves help dissipate wave force and reduce the speed of incoming water, thus preventing coastal erosion and safeguarding communities downstream. They act as buffers against the destructive effects of cyclones and storms by absorbing wave energy and reducing wind speeds and wave heights before reaching inhabited areas.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that coastal areas with mangrove forests experience significantly less damage during events like tsunamis and cyclones compared to areas without such ecosystems. Mangroves can reduce wave heights by up to 90% and wind speeds by up to 75%.
Additionally, mangroves provide economic opportunities for coastal communities through activities such as fishing and ecotourism. Fish, shellfish, and other food sources obtained from mangroves play a vital role in ensuring the food security of neighboring communities.
This illustration shows the impact of storm surges on coastal infrastructure and people with and without mangrove forests
Image credit: © World Bank and Punto Aparte
MANGROVE FORESTS ARE IN GRAVE DANGER DUE TO DEFORESTATION FOR INTENSIVE AQUACULTURE OPERATIONS, PARTICULARLY SHRIMP AND PRAWN FARMING.
The global demand for seafood, particularly shrimp and prawns, has experienced a significant increase in recent years. As a result, the aquaculture industry has expanded to meet this growing demand. Unfortunately, in many coastal regions, this expansion has come at the expense of mangrove forests, which are being converted into shrimp and prawn ponds.
Today, it's vital to acknowledge the need for sustainable alternatives to mangrove deforestation for aquaculture. By adopting practices like integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA), promoting certification programs like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), and enforcing stringent government regulations, we can fulfil the global seafood demand while safeguarding coastal ecosystems. This approach is essential for a more environmentally responsible and socially equitable seafood industry in the long run.