Have you ever gone on a family trip to the beach and noticed a group of small trees sticking out the water? Their roots should be underwater, but the rest of their body is above it. If yes, you’ve found a mangrove forest!
Mangroves are groups of tropical trees or shrubs that are found by the coast. Unlike most plants, they can grow in hot, muddy, and salty conditions. It is the only tree species that can thrive in saltwater. Mangroves can do this through a series of adaptations. For example, they have roots that absorb water and keep the salt out.
Why Are Mangroves Important?
Mangrove forests are important because they bring about a lot of benefits. These benefits help both marine wildlife and humans. They might even be the answer to the problem of climate change.
Here are the benefits that are brought about by mangrove forests:
Mangroves produce a lot of useful resources.
From them, people can acquire common and unique materials that can be eaten or used for building. People can harvest edible items such as fish, shellfish, vegetables, and tea leaves. Mangroves yield raw materials, primarily wood and charcoal. The fibers can also be harvested to make rope.
Mangroves have certain elements extracted. Scientists make some of their parts into antibacterial medicines. Others can be concocted into perfumes, hair preservatives, and dyes, or skin cosmetics. These are only some of the many resources people can get from mangrove forests.
Mangroves serve as homes for the local wildlife.
These are hotspots of biodiversity. The presence of calm waters beneath foliage is appealing to marine wildlife. These waters serve as breeding spots for fish, shellfish, birds, and even sea turtles. Mangrove forests also act as the nursery for newly-hatched fishes.
Other species thrive near mangroves. You’d be surprised to find that animals as large as the crocodile or the alligator hunt for their food there. Even the Royal Bengal Tigers of India and Bangladesh navigate the muddy waters to find prey.
Mangroves help in maintaining water quality.
These groups of plants form a dense web of roots that act as a barrier underwater. This natural barrier traps sediments, heavy metals, and more forms of pollutants. Preventing these items from flowing upstream stops them from contaminating waterways which ensures the protection of habitats like coral reefs and seagrass beds.
Mangroves absorb a lot of carbon.
They take in an amount of carbon that is two to four times greater than vast tropical forests, like the Amazon. The presence of too much carbon causes global warming in the atmosphere. Mangrove forests alleviate the effects of global warming. By propagating mangroves all over the world, we effectively fight climate change.
Mangroves offer a coastal defense.
It is not an exaggeration to say that they are the first line of defense against violent waters. Mangrove forests stabilize the waters that move towards the shore. They protect coastal communities from storm surges, floods, and hurricanes. Without them, areas close to the sea would suffer from harsh waters and storms.
What Are The Threats To Mangrove Forests?
Despite the benefits that we get from mangroves, these plants are still disappearing from coasts all around the world. Here are some threats to the mangrove forests that are caused by humans.
Rising Sea Water
Global warming has caused the ice caps to melt and the sea level to rise. This issue, in turn, causes the tide line to expand. Mangrove forests retreat further inland to avoid being submerged in too much water. But human-made structures, like cities, prevent them from doing that now.
Conversion Of Waters To Fishponds Or Agricultural Lands
Converting a mangrove forest into a fishpond or an agricultural land means cutting the plants down. This conversion is done to make way for fish pens or plantations.
Reclamation projects are also known as landfill or land reclamation. Like, agricultural conversion, creating new land where mangrove forests thrive would mean cutting them down.Overexploitation
Harvesting too many resources from mangrove forests will inhibit their growth which prevents them from propagating. It may also interfere with the benefits that they bring about.
Like any plant, the mangrove will not thrive if trash pollutes its environment. From 2001 to 2012, the Earth lost about 35 to about 97 square miles of mangrove forest annually. This rate of disappearance is more severe than that of the tropical rainforests. It is alarming considering that mangroves make up less than two percent of marine environments.
People need to start acting towards the conservation and protection of the mangrove forests. But, unless people realize its utility, they will continue to operate without care, destroying them in the process. Saving the mangrove forests should become a priority as it could help us solve one of the world’s most significant problems—global warming.