Mangrove forests are incredibly important ecosystems. In a study from 2014, mangrove forests were found to provide ecosystem services (benefits to humans) valued at $194,000 per hectare annually. Today is International Mangrove Day and here are just a few reasons we should care about mangroves – and invest in protecting them:
1. Biodiversity. Home to an incredible array of species, mangroves are biodiversity hotspots. They provide nesting and breeding habitat for fish and shellfish, migratory birds, and sea turtles. An estimated 80% of the global fish catch relies on mangrove forests either directly or indirectly. In the Bay of Jiquilisco, there are at least 2 crocodile, 3 bivalve, 3 crab and shrimp, 4 sea turtle, 9 bird, and 12 amphibian species, as well as numerous species of fish. Several of these animal species are endangered.
2. Livelihoods. The rural communities we work with are fishers and farmers who depend on their natural environment to provide for their families. Healthy mangrove ecosystems mean healthy fisheries from which to fish, and healthy land on which to farm. Since 2011, we’ve worked with communities to define and implement Local Plans for Sustainable Use (PLAS, by its Spanish acronym) to regulate the use of natural resources like fish, clams and crabs, and ensure that future generations will be able to count on these same resources. Check out this video from Friends of the Earth about mangroves and livelihoods:
3. Water. Mangroves are essential to maintaining water quality. With their dense network of roots and surrounding vegetation, they filter and trap sediments, heavy metals, and other pollutants. This ability to retain sediments flowing from upstream prevents contamination of downstream waterways and protects sensitive habitat like coral reefs and seagrass beds below.
4. Coastal defense. Mangroves are the first line of defense for coastal communities. They stabilize shorelines by slowing erosion and provide natural barriers protecting coastal communities from increased storm surge, flooding, and hurricanes. In 2003, it was estimated that a quarter of the world’s population lived within 100 kilometers of the coast and at 100 meters of sea level. Robust mangrove forests are natural protection for communities vulnerable both to sea level rise and the more intense and frequent weather events caused by climate change.
5. Carbon storage. Mangroves “sequester carbon at a rate two to four times greater than mature tropical forests and store three to five times more carbon per equivalent area than tropical forests” like the Amazon rainforest. This means that conserving and restoring mangroves is essential to fighting climate change, the warming of the global climate fueled by increased carbon emissions, that is already having disastrous effects on communities worldwide. At the same time, mangroves are vulnerable to climate change as sea level rise pushes ecosystems inland.
6. Materials. In addition to consuming fish and shellfish from the mangroves, communities have historically used mangrove wood and other extracts for both building and medicinal purposes. Their potential as a source for novel biological materials, such as antibacterial compounds and pest-resistance genes, remains largely undiscovered. Mangroves represent less than 0.4% of the the world’s forest, but they’re disappearing three to five times faster than forests as a whole. Along with our partners, we are supporting communities in implementing innovative techniques like Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR) to help mangroves thrive.
7. Sustainable development. Intact and healthy mangrove forests in El Salvador have an untapped potential for sustainable revenue-generating initiatives including ecotourism, sport fishing, and other recreational activities. Whereas unregulated development threatens mangroves – like mega tourism projects in Mexico, polluting industries in India and Vietnam, or large-scale shrimp aquaculture in many parts of the world – locally-led community development can offer economic growth without compromising coastal ecosystems.
Mangrove forests are extremely productive ecosystems, providing critical services that benefit all of us. EcoViva and our partners are working to build a Mangrove Resource Collaborative that will strengthen mangrove conservation by gathering community leaders, scientists, and policymakers around the common goal of creating sound coastal policy. We love mangroves, and we hope you do too!