July 26th, the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, is a day to celebrate the vital role that mangroves play for nature and the wellbeing of coastal communities throughout the world, as nursery grounds for fish; as barriers against storms and as sources of wood for building and cooking.
However, mangroves are disappearing rapidly, driven by land conversion for aquaculture and agriculture, coastal development, pollution and overexploitation. Estimates indicate that a quarter of mangroves have been lost in the past 40 years, which has significant impacts upon numerous species of birds, fish, mammals and insects and means huge losses for the millions of people that regularly use and depend upon mangroves across the world’s tropical regions.
The consequences of mangrove loss include impoverished livelihoods, lower economic growth, declining human security, and a poorer quality of life for local communities and coastal populations.
Here are 5 facts that show why we must protect and restore mangroves for people and nature:
1. Mangroves, like the Amazon rainforest, are a type of tropical forest yet they have evolved to thrive in hot, muddy, salty conditions that would quickly kill most plants.
2. Mangroves help mitigate climate change and help people and nature adapt
Although mangroves make up less than one per cent of all tropical forests around the world, they have a critical role in mitigating climate change. Mangrove soils are highly effective carbon sinks, locking away large quantities of carbon and stopping It from entering the atmosphere. In addition, they are vital in helping society adapt to climate change impacts, reducing the impact of storms and sea-level rise.
3. Mangroves are hotspots of biodiversity
Mangroves form the foundation of highly productive and biologically rich ecosystems; providing a home, nursery and feeding ground for a wide range of species of fish, birds, insects, reptiles and even a “mangrove tiger” in India. In fact, over 40 bird, 10 reptiles, 1 amphibian, and 6 mammal species are only found in mangroves, the majority of which are found in Asia and Australia.
4. Mangroves are vital for millions of people
Millions of people live close to and directly rely on mangroves for food, wood for building and fires, for income from fishing and tourism, and for mental and spiritual wellbeing. They provide benefits to and are used by societies across the world; irrespective of wealth, gender or age, in many communities all individuals routinely use and benefit from these amazing forests. Mangroves contribute to international goals for poverty reduction, gender equality and clean water and sanitation
5. Mangroves have a huge economic and societal value
The role mangroves play in the wellbeing and livelihoods of people around the world can not be fully quantified. Yet, in terms of the goods and services they provide – including fisheries and wood – they are contributing an estimated US$33-57 thousand per hectare per year to the national economies of developing countries with mangroves. As such, the loss of mangroves harms both national and global economies. Increasingly governments around the world are recognising the long-term benefits that mangroves provide to their economies and people and are actively taking steps to protect and restore them, however, there is a long way to go!
As the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) approaches, mangrove ecosystem health and productivity must be a part of global efforts to eradicate poverty, strengthen food security and reduce vulnerability to climate change.