The World Mangrove Atlas: Hope Amid Despair

By Daniel Kandy

The World Mangrove Atlas revealed some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the loss of mangroves has slowed to 0.7 percent  annually. The bad news is that that rate is still three to four times higher than the loss rate of land-based forest and one fifth of all of the world’s mangroves are thought to have been lost in the past three  decades.  Of the world’s original mangrove forest area, estimated at 80 million acres,  less than 37 million acres of mangroves now remain.

Mangrove forests are home to an abundant variety of tropical fish, birds, reptiles, crustaceans and insects, as well as thousands of species of flora, and human populations who depend on the mangroves for their livelihoods. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

Mangrove forests exist in tropical and sub-tropical regions, with Indonesia, Brazil, Australia, Nigeria, and Mexico having the largest total area of mangroves. They are home to an abundant variety of tropical fish, birds, reptiles, crustaceans and insects, as well as thousands of species of flora, and human populations who depend on the mangroves for their livelihoods.

2010 is the United Nation’s International Year of Biodiversity and there have been some positive developments in mangrove conservation-there are 1,200 protected areas in places like the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia, and many countries, including Belize and Fiji, are beginning or escalating major mangrove restoration initiatives.

The main culprits of mangrove degradation and destruction are coastal development and shrimp farming. While these practices can bring short term economic development, over time these shrimp farms become less and less productive, often leaving the shrimp farmer in debt, and the mangrove area is damaged beyond repair.

Because mangroves provide services to people, like purifying water and protecting the coast, experts estimate that mangroves generate up to US $9000 per hectare. This amount is considerably more than aquaculture or tourism that damages the mangroves. Mangroves are often important in local economies, providinf timber for construction and a source for protein, includingfish and crustaceans, who inhabit the mangroves.

Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Adam Steiner, hopes that “together, the   science and the economics can drive policy shifts.” The reduced pace of mangrove destruction is a good start, but with so much of the original mangrove forests already gone, it is time to stop destroying mangroves forever.

Read the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO)  report on mangroves between 1980 and 2005.

Daniel Kandy is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project

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