INTRODUCTION TO MANGROVES
Mangroves are trees evolved to tolerate saltwater exposure environments along equatorial and tropical coastlines. They are easily recognizable by their tangled roots that prop them above the waterline. The complex root system slows the ebb and flow of tidal waters, trapping sediment that slowly builds up over time. The accretion of sediment creates an anaerobic environment that sequesters carbon for hundreds of years. Carbon is also stored within the living biomass and roots of the trees.
Most people equate mangrove forests with marine environments; however, mangrove forests exist between the boundary of land and sea. They provide critical habitat for hundreds of species both within the water and on land. Productive offshore fisheries rely on healthy coastal mangroves to provide habitat for the early life stages of many fish. Terrestrial and avian species use the forests as a refuge and critical aspects of their lifecycles. Recognizing how the forests provide habitat for animals at different cycles of the animal’s lives is essential to maintaining long-term mangrove protection.
The sturdy root systems provide services for aquatic and terrestrial species and coastal communities. During storms and floods, the roots and trees act as natural barriers against storm surges, decreasing wave energy and protecting human settlements from severe damage. The stabilization of soil by the roots of the trees inhibits additional sediment loss. Without mangrove forests along coastlines, coastal erosion is accelerated and often compounded by the steady creep of sea-level rise.
Despite the plethora of benefits mangrove forests provide to coastal communities and biodiversity, they are under threat around the world. Over half of the world’s mangroves have been destroyed (32 million hectares), and current mangrove loss continues at a 1% decline each year. Mangrove restoration is an essential mechanism to combat loss, promote biodiversity, and protect local communities. The global community must act together to slow the decline and implement community-focused restoration.
In an effort to provide a common voice and mission to advocate for mangroves, the Fair Carbon project partnered with the Global Mangrove Alliance to co-author the State of the World's Mangroves. Together with over 27 organizations including The Nature Conservancy, IUCN, WWF, and many others, the report provides guidance to NGOs, scientists, and governments on best practices to recover mangrove forests.
Mangrove Photo: Matt Curnock