6 things you need to know about mangroves (but never thought to ask)

Measuring the growth of a newly planted mangrove in Silonay, Philippines. (© Nandini Narayanan)

Measuring the growth of a newly planted mangrove in Silonay, Philippines. (© Nandini Narayanan)

Editor’s note: Tuesday, July 26, is International Mangrove Day.

“I love mangroves.” That’s a phrase you’ve probably never heard anyone say. Mangroves don’t inspire awe and wonder the way coral reefs, rainforests or wide-open grasslands do. In many parts of the world, they’ve long been frowned upon as dirty, mosquito-infested tangles of roots that stand in the way of an ocean view.

Even environmentalists tend to think of mangroves’ ecological role mostly in terms of protection from storms and nurseries for fish. As climate change threatens to increase the frequency and severity of storms, mangroves provide a stout defense against storm surge. Mangrove roots also provide habitats for fish and shellfish, crucial to sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities.

But that’s just the beginning — mangroves do so much more. In fact, there’s a case to be made that mangroves are the most useful ecosystem on Earth. Here are six reasons why.

1. Mangroves store more carbon than terrestrial forests. Mangroves help people weather the impacts of climate change — but they also help mitigate its causes. Globally, protecting forests can account for as much as 30 percent of the solution to climate change thanks to their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide. Mangroves have the capacity to take far more carbon out of the atmosphere than terrestrial forests; a patch of mangroves could absorb as much as 10 times the carbon of a similarly sized patch of terrestrial forest.

2. Mangroves may help fight coral bleaching. One of the most pernicious effects of climate change is coral bleaching. The bleaching of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been making headlines this summer, but in fact this trend is occurring in all the world’s oceans, and scientists project that it will likely worsen as oceans absorb more carbon. As coral reefs are the foundation of marine life, the prospect of their death is a disaster for our oceans.While people usually classify reefs and coastal forests as distinct ecosystems, nature doesn’t recognize this boundary. In fact, young corals grow among mangrove roots, and healthy mangrove forests could provide shelter for coral species at risk of extinction from coral bleaching. Furthermore, mangroves may even play a role in reducing ocean acidification, which in turn helps prevent coral bleaching.

Dr. Emily Pidgeon, Senior Director of Strategic Marine Initiatives, spoke on the ecological importance of mangroves, their role in climate change resilience and what we can do to protect their fragile anatomies. You can listen to her podcast below.

3. Mangroves help fight climate change — but they are far from immune to its effects. Mangroves are at home in the boundary zone that isn’t quite land and isn’t quite ocean. They require the perfect amount of sea water — too little and they dry out; too much and they drown. Sea-level rise is changing where mangroves can grow and threatening their continued existence in some of the places where they are most needed.

4. Your coconut shrimp might also be hurting mangroves. Mangroves face dire threats with or without sea-level rise. In many parts of the world, mangroves are cut down to make room for fish ponds. Sustainable aquaculture, mostly of crabs and shellfish, is possible in mangroves, but the poured concrete structures or even mounds of dirt used for many fish ponds retain fish waste, rendering them unusable after only a few years. In the Philippines, where mangroves have a particularly important role to play in climate resiliency, fish ponds currently cover as much coastal land as mangroves.

HELP RESTORE MANGROVES

CI’s mangrove restoration projects are critical to addressing climate change impacts — and protecting communities.

But fish ponds are just one threat facing mangroves. People cut down mangroves for better ocean views. They are battered by wave-strewn trash. Goats eat them. Barnacles choke them. It’s hard out there for a mangrove.

5. Once mangroves are gone, they can’t simply be replanted. Mangroves actually hold the coastline in place, giving it its shape. Once they are gone, the land erodes and tides and currents reshape the coastline, making it difficult or impossible for mangroves to grow back in their former habitats.

Young mangrove at sunset. In this shot a school of baitfish shoal on the edge of the mangrove roots, ready to retreat at the first sign of a predator. Mangrove habitats around the world are under siege from development, and these important ecosystems have great need of protection policies. (© Matthew D Potenski 2011/Marine Photobank)

Young mangrove at sunset. In this shot a school of baitfish shoal on the edge of the mangrove roots, ready to retreat at the first sign of a predator. Mangrove habitats around the world are under siege from development, and these important ecosystems have great need of protection policies. (© Matthew D Potenski 2011/Marine Photobank)

6. Not all mangroves are created equal. When mangroves are planted, it is absolutely crucial to plant the right ones. Mangroves aren’t a single species — the term “mangrove” covers any of the 70 or so species of shrubs or trees that grow in saline or brackish water. Each kind of mangrove is uniquely suited to its ecological niche, and the wrong kind in the wrong place won’t survive. After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines’ coastal communities, the government committed to planting one million mangroves. Unfortunately, many were planted without regard to getting the right species in the right place, and many of the trees died.

Mangroves are a key piece of how we address climate change — helping us both adapt to its impacts and take carbon out of the atmosphere. In fact, taking all their benefits into account, there is a case to be made that mangroves do more for us than any other ecosystem on Earth.

Given their fragility, and how often we overlook them, it might be time to start working toward some serious mangrove appreciation.

Andrew Kolb was a senior director of communications at Conservation International.

Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updatesDonate to Conservation International.


Further Reading


 

Comments

  1. Pingback: 6 things you need to know about mangroves (but ...

  2. Tom Sanchez says

    I love mangroves. To me, they symbolize tropical climates as much as palm trees do. Wherever I go in the Caribbean, I’ve sought out mangroves. I’m very pleased to hear that mangroves are being shepherded by your organization to help mangroves prosper, given how important they are to coastlines and climate change.

    All my very best to you in your organization’s endeavors!

    1. dr. s.m. jalil says

      If you are a forester it is your fault not to know about mangrove, otherwise you may ask the forester rtesponsible for mangrove protection.

  3. Tina Henize says

    Mangroves are critical to sustaining fisheries and for coastal stabilization. In the Florida Keys even some of the right wing making war on Nature know they’re important (some really ignorant people still cut the protected trees down, of course). Thanks for this excellent little review.

  4. Pingback: Conservation: 6 things you need to know about mangroves | Fly Life Magazine

  5. sarinke stephen s says

    I love nature. And i adore mangrove for there is no single tree which can do the task of a magrove. I wish to hav the chance to educate my people hear in tanzania their importance.coz there cuting the trees. I

  6. Ted Task says

    The County has built a shoal in front of our neighboring park, and are planting mangroves. Our Association President is very unhappy–“They will spread and take over our waterfront, and it’s illegal to cut them down”.
    How do I answer this, knowing the good that these new plantings will bring.

    1. pengu says

      Just say: ‘The mangroves were there for thousands of years, and luckily they will be there long after the association president is gone’

  7. Pingback: ‘Surf and turf’ can have carbon footprint of cross-country road trip: study | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

  8. Pingback: Scan and serve: New tool traces seafood from ocean to plate | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

  9. Pingback: On World Mangrove Day, a new strategy to protect the world’s most important ecosystem | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

  10. Pingback: On World Mangrove Day, a new strategy to protect the world’s most important ecosystem - MotherNature

  11. Pingback: On a typhoon-swept island, one town rebuilds its coast guard: nature | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

  12. Pingback: Forests and facts: 5 things to know about a gloomy new study | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

  13. Pingback: New climate funding pays to protect forests | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

  14. Pingback: For island nations, nature is first line of climate defense | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

  15. Pingback: In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

  16. dr. s.m. jalil says

    ANDREW KOLB
    July 25, 2016 I think you are too late. Already 40-50% mangrove already replaced by other uses. The poor. who could not exploit mangrove are thinking as to who is to be followed.

  17. Pingback: New climate funding pays to protect forests | speakfornature.com

  18. Pingback: On World Mangrove Day, a new strategy to protect the world’s most important ecosystem | speakfornature.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *