Mangrove ecosystems are some of the most productive and useful on the planet, but they are largely misunderstood. Mangrove trees — stubborn, shrub-like trees that grow exclusively in coastal waters — are the warriors of the plant kingdom. They thrive in seawater so salty that it would choke the life out of the mightiest terrestrial flora and endure the persistent battering of waves typical of the intertidal regions where they put down roots.
This hardscrabble existence has its benefits: As climate change threatens to increase the frequency and severity of storms, mangroves provide a stout defense.
Despite their uncommon resilience, mangrove forests are under threat and often overlooked for the vital resource they are. It might be time to start working toward some serious mangrove appreciation. By protecting mangroves, we can help protect the future of our planet.
1-Mangroves store more carbon than any other ecosystem on Earth.
Although mangrove forests cover just 0.1 percent of our planet’s land surface, they store more carbon than any other type of forest. In fact, mangroves store 10 times more carbon than terrestrial forests, and twice as much as salt marshes. This carbon-storing superpower makes mangroves an important part of the solution to climate change.
2-Mangroves can help keep people safe.
Mangroves — and the thick, impenetrable tangle their aboveground and water roots create — are vital to coastal communities. They act as buffers to storm surges, forming a natural barrier between the ocean and the people who live on land, breaking waves and limiting the impact of heavy winds. But mangroves are being lost at a rate of 1-2% per year — faster than any other type of forest. So in today’s changing global climate with rising sea levels, it is more important than ever to protect threatened mangrove ecosystems.
3-Not all mangroves are created equal.
Mangrove ecosystems are some of the most biologically diverse on the planet. There are over 70 species of mangroves found in 136 nations across the world. Each mangrove species is uniquely suited to its ecological niche — the wrong kind in the wrong place won’t survive. After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines’ coastal communities, the government committed to planting one million mangroves. Unfortunately, many were planted without regard to getting the right species in the right place, and many of the trees died.
4-Mangroves give the coastline its shape.
Mangroves actually hold the coastline in place, giving it its shape. They help to protect from coastal erosion and provide protection from storms. Once they are gone, the land erodes, and tides and currents reshape the coastline, making it difficult or impossible for mangroves to grow back in their former habitats.
The calm, clear water in Bird's Head allows corals to grow very near the surface in this unique environment.
5-Mangroves may help fight coral bleaching.
Young corals grow among mangrove roots, and healthy mangrove forests could provide shelter for coral species at risk of extinction from coral bleaching.
Mangroves: weathering the storm
Mangroves aren't just crucial for mitigating climate change. Their dense root systems can help protect communities from storm surges, saving lives and shielding infrastructure during tropical storms and hurricanes.