The disappearance of mangrove forests will have a devastating effect on the delicate relation between the sea and the coastline. The power of the seas can overwhelm any man-made structures, and they fail to withstand their fury over time. It is only the mangroves that have time and again protected many coastal areas and have the power to resist the onslaught of the sea.
Mangrove forests were for long dismissed as swamps and wasteland. Its hostile terrain and inaccessibility proved a barrier against dedicated research and both its biodiversity and protective value were ignored by people except by those who were closely associated with it.
But scientists, ecologists, and dwellers in the coastal regions of the world have realized the value of this important and diverse ecosystem. Along with the coral reefs, and the seagrass, the mangrove forests are a combined coastal ecosystem that both protects and nourishes the shoreline, the people living there, and the fragile ecosystem in between the land and the ocean.
The impenetrable mangrove forests, the coral reefs, and the seagrass beds are found in close proximity in many places and work in tandem. While the mangroves trap pollutants and sediments and prevent them from flowing out to sea, the seagrass beds also hold back mud and silt that could drown the reefs. The coral reefs return the favor by keeping away the fury of the tidal waves. The disappearance of anyone would be a catastrophe for the fine balance ecosystem.
But the mangroves are being decimated as quickly as the rainforests. And in the Americas, they are disappearing faster than even the rainforests. Over a third of the total mangrove forests have disappeared forever as land is reclaimed for construction, agriculture, and industries.
While climate change and pollution are taking their toll as it has taken on other fragile ecosystems, the local threats also continue to be quite potent.
Overharvesting of the mangrove forests for firewood the construction of dams and irrigation that divert the flow to the mangrove forests, and overfishing are disturbing the delicate chain.
Reasons We Need To Protect The Mangrove Forests
The mangrove forests act as the kindergarten of sea life in many coastal belts. They stretched thousands of miles in the tropical and subtropical coastal belts of Africa Asia, Oceania, and both North and South America. But only half of the 116,000 square miles of mangrove forests remain.
The roots trap land and river sediments which are bound to the coastline by the sturdy spreading roots of the mangroves. The roots also filter out harmful sediments from harming the seagrass meadows and the coral reefs.
The mangrove forests also act as carbon sinks by removing them from the atmosphere. They are sucked in by the plants and held. As the branches and leaves decompose in the dense forests, they boost the soil carbon quantity.
The mangroves are more efficient than other forests in pulling out carbon and storing them. Research has proved that they can hold over four times the carbon than tropical rainforests.
Over 2.4 billion people inhabit the coastal belt around the world. And many depend on the mangroves for sustenance. The wood is hardy and resistant to insects and rot. Local people know the rich medicinal properties of plants hidden in the mangrove forests. They are also rich in fish, prawns, shellfish, and crabs.
The mangrove forests also hide a treasure trove of unknown biological materials. They could prove invaluable for their medicinal and pest-resistant properties.
Mangroves allocate more carbon below ground. Mangroves store carbon in large pools in soil and dead roots. The mangroves are among the most carbon-rich biomes, richer even than the tropical rainforests. As coastal habitats, they account for around 14% of carbon sequestration by the global oceans. Disturbing this equilibrium would result in high carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
With traditional tourism now shunned for the harm they cause to the local environment, sustainable tourism is now encouraged and enabled by thousands of tourists. They learn of the sustainable nature of the mangroves and are taught ways to protect them.
The tourism economy helps to maintain a local economy, which in turn helps the ecological processes of the region. A balance between the number of visitors and the need for protecting the delicate ecosystem of the region could help towards the development of the mangrove forests.
The 2004 Tsunami that hit the coastal belts of numerous countries in Asia has brought forth the need for mangroves. It is estimated that a tenth of the deaths in the Thai coastal belt would have been avoided that day if they had been protected by the mangrove forests.
Threats To The Mangrove Forests
We are slowly destroying the most fragile of the coastal ecosystems. One of the most potent reasons to protect the mangrove forests is that they protect us from the fury of the seas. These forests are a natural barrier against storm surges and coastal floods.
The mangrove forests are also rich in biodiversity. The marine and land ecosystems in even the remote regions of the world have been destroyed, with many species of plants and wildlife in danger of extinction. The rich minerals in the soil of the mangrove forests help thousands of life forms to thrive and flourish. Birds also depend on the sea life teeming in the mangrove forests.
The mangrove forests need to be protected and nurtured along the coastal regions and other natural habitats to protect the coasts from the wrath of the ocean. The storms have also grown in intensity with climate changes, magnifying the importance of the mangrove forests.
Development for restoring the mangrove forests would need to take into account the sustenance of the local community. They should be weaned away from activities that are inimical to the mangroves and instead participate in the healing process that will also sustain them.