We modern humans have been grossly unkind to Mother Earth and her vital ecosystems such as rain forests, coral reefs, sea grass, wetlands, and mangroves. Due to our previous lack of knowledge – and despite new scientific evidence – we continue to damage and misuse these natural resources. When it comes to mangroves, sometimes referred to as “the lungs of the oceans,” there is an urgency to save them from further destruction.
WHAT ARE MANGROVES AND WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?
Mangroves define a certain group of trees and shrubs that grow in hot and humid places where land and ocean or tributaries meet; they form a bridge between soil, salt water, and fresh water. They are uniquely adapted to survive in their saline environments where other plant life would perish.
Those common in the Americas include red, black, white, and buttonwood mangroves. Australia is home to cedar, holly and the Australian mangrove. Along coastal Bangladesh and India is a type called the looking-glass mangrove.
The roots of mangroves hold the soil in place reducing land erosion. In the case of tropical storms and hurricanes, mangroves play a vital role in reducing storm surges against low-lying coastal communities.
Not least of all, mangroves sequester an amazing amount of carbon. They are responsible for absorbing and storing more than 10% of carbon found in both ocean waters and the atmosphere. Mangroves not only store carbon within themselves, they store carbon in the soils beneath them. According to the Mangrove Action Project (MAP), mangroves are more efficient at capturing and storing carbon than many inland forests!
Mangroves thrive in the tropical and subtropical zones around the globe. They are found along the coasts and estuaries of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico in the USA, throughout the islands of the Caribbean, Mexico and Belize, Brazil, Australia, Bangladesh, and in southeast Asia.
WHY ARE MANGROVES AT RISK?
We have lost a significant percentage of mangroves worldwide, and the number one reason is due to construction of residential neighborhoods and commercial buildings, such as hotels, as demand for uninterrupted water views and access grows exponentially. In Asia, mangrove forests are also being cleared in favor of aqua-farms (shrimp farming in particular). Where mangroves survive, there are threats from oil spills, pollution from sewage, agricultural/chemical runoffs, and plastic litter.
What is more, every time shoreline mangrove forests or small islands of mangroves just off shore are cut down and removed, more carbon is released into the oceans and the air. These actions only add to our climate change problems.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Education and financial support are both critical in the effort to protect and restore mangrove forests. Currently there are many non-government organizations conducting training workshops with citizens of coastal communities in tropical regions, particularly in such emerging countries in SE Asia as Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Consultants are working alongside government officials to create new protection zones and to beef up regulations as well as penalties against illegal logging.
There are many organizations dedicated in full or in part to saving the mangroves. For the Mangrove Action Project click here – http://mangroveactionproject.org.
If you are someone who is concerned about climate change, it is worth 5 minutes of your time right now to visit their site and learn more about our friends in the natural world, the mangroves.
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