Maintaining Robust Mangrove Forests Protects Coastlines

Mangrove A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report released July 17 found that 16 Pacific nations, including American Samoa and Fiji, could lose more than half their mangroves by 2100. Ocean expansion and the melting of glaciers worldwide, both linked to warming temperatures, is causing sea level to rise and affecting the ability of mangrove forests to survive. Mangroves support multi-million-dollar fisheries, filter coastal pollution, and shelter islands and coastal areas from severe storms.

According to the UNEP report, mangroves reduce wave energy by some 75 percent and were essential in protecting sections of coastline in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and elsewhere during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis. Yet roughly half of the world’s mangroves have been destroyed since 1900.

The main culprits of mangrove forest loss are the creation of aquaculture farms, salt production, tourism, and other coastal developments, notes Worldwatch Institute researcher Zoë Chafe in Vital Signs 2006-2007. As many as 20 percent of mangrove forests have been lost in just the last 25 years, writes Chafe, and they continue to disappear at a rate of about 105,000 hectares per year. But as the importance of mangroves is better understood, the rate of deforestation is beginning to decline and several countries are embarking on new initiatives to restore them.

A United Nations Development Programme official reported that after the 2004 tsunamis, a priority in Indonesia was to replant 1,600 kilometers of mangrove forests. In Maharashtra, India, government officials have outlawed mangrove destruction, and in Pakistan, WWF International is working with local organizations to repair damaged mangrove areas.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.