Mangroves are the Superstars of Marine Coastline Environments
If you’ve ever been on vacation by the beach somewhere tropical, you’ve probably encountered mangroves, but did you know that they are in fact trees and are crucial for helping the environment and protecting the world’s coastlines?
Mangroves are halophytes (or salt-tolerant trees) and can be found in what’s known as the intertidal zone - the area where the coastlines meet land in tropical and subtropical locations.
What’s remarkable about them is that despite being trees they have adapted to living in salty water, the shifting sands of the world’s oceans, and the low-oxygen environment of mud. Their twisted roots and branches jut up from the sand and water like long, slender stilts and help secure the trees against the battering of the sea and changing tide, and their thick waxy leaves filter and excrete the salt from the water.
Aside from their incredible adaptation to an environment considered unfit for trees of any kind, mangroves are a critical species for protecting coastlines, endangered and threatened species, people’s livelihoods, and even helping combat climate change!
They’re All Over!
Mangrove forests are more ubiquitous than you might think. Over 100 tropical and subtropical countries are lucky enough to have mangroves along their coastlines, making up an area the size of Portugal.
Want to see mangroves? Go to Indonesia!
Indonesia sports the most mangrove coverage in the world, with more than 2 million hectares of mangrove forest throughout the country’s coastlines (that’s an area larger than the country of Belize).
They’re Disappearing. Fast.
Every year approximately 1% of the world’s mangroves are lost, mostly due to human practices like over fishing, land use changes, coastal development, and agriculture. The United Nations Environmental Program estimates 25% of this loss is caused by shrimp farming.
At this rate, mangrove forests could disappear from Earth entirely by the year 2100.
Carbon Munching Machines
It’s well known that trees capture and store tremendous amounts of carbon, but mangrove trees are one of the best. Mangrove forests are capable of storing 10 times more carbon than terrestrial ecosystems, putting them at the front line of climate change.
Friends of Fish and So Much More
The intricate root systems of mangroves make for the perfect habitat for many different species of aquatic life - from oysters and mussels, to mudskippers, lemon sharks, and manatees.
Beyond what can be found below the surface of the water, mangroves are also critical habitat for cranes, eagles, monkeys, and even tigers!
Guardians of the Shoreline
Two undeniable symptoms of climate change are rising sea levels and increasingly extreme storm surges - and mangroves are a natural solution to protect against the devastation caused by these two phenomena!
Not only do they act as a barrier against rising tides and storm surge, their dense and plentiful roots hold the soil in place to prevent erosion and degradation of the coastline.
Side fact: In 2018, Pakistan set a world record by planting over 1.1 million mangroves in a single day!
Food for All
If you like fish on your dinner plate then you can probably thank the mangroves. Either directly or indirectly, an estimated 80% of global fish catch is in some way dependent on mangrove forests. Whether they are spawning grounds for ocean bound fish, or habitat for shrimp, or even an important source of algae, fruit, and salt, mangroves are an important part of the global food supply.
Mangroves for the Win
These unique trees are immensely important for the environment and the communities within which they grow. And just like any other tree they need and deserve our protection.
There are many organizations strictly focused on protecting mangroves all over the world, but we are doing our part as well! We just planted 100,000 mangrove trees in the Sundarbans of West Bengal, India (which is in fact a rainforest) and will be planting more soon! Check out our projects in India to learn more.