Tropical Mangrove Forests Must Be Saved
November 15, 2012

Experts Publish Policy Brief On Saving Earth’s Mangrove Forests

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Tropical mangrove forests, which have one foot on land and one foot in the sea, are being decimated by human activity and need to be approached with sustainability in mind, according to a new policy brief released by a coalition of conservation groups from across the United Nations.

The report, titled "Securing the Future of Mangroves,” said that the world has lost about 20 percent of its mangrove forests since 1980 and the remaining forests are fairly degraded.

Converting the coastal mangrove regions for artificial fisheries is the foremost driver of their deforestation. According to the report, about 38 percent of global mangrove loss can be attributed utilizing the area for shrimp culture, and another 14 percent of the loss is the result of other forms of aquaculture. Over-harvesting of the trees for wood, industrial runoff, and poorly managed dredging of coastal areas have also negatively impacted the mangrove population

"These practices continue to take their toll and if left unchecked will cause significant economic and ecological decline," said Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist at The Nature Conservancy and co-author of the report.

"Rare and critically important mangrove forests continue to be lost at a rate three to five times higher than that for global forests,” he added “Set against this is a growing realization of the social and economic value of mangroves and a remarkable array of restoration efforts in many countries around the world."

Over 20 percent of the total losses have occurred in the Asian and Pacific regions, followed by East Africa with an 8 percent decline between 1980 and 2005. In Australia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Suriname, and French Guiana losses have been below 1 percent during that period.

The policy brief also stressed a recent cost-benefit study that showed planting and protecting over 46 square miles of mangroves in Vietnam cost just over $1 million but saved $7 million in dyke maintenance costs.

A program in the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve in Malaysia was cited by the report as the best example of a sustainably-managed mangrove ecosystem. Only sustainable forestry, fishing, and aquaculture activities are permitted in the reserve. The harvesting of mangrove timber, which occurs on a 30-year reforestation cycle, generated roughly $ 12.3 million, with aquaculture adding about $ 10.7 million annually.

"This case provides evidence that mangrove forests can be conserved and enjoyed while still providing reliable long-term but reasonably high economic return for local and larger communities," according to Spalding. "It shows that when well-managed, mangroves can ensure sustainable yields of products."

The policy brief also posited several recommendations to improve policy, forest management tools, data collection, environmentally-responsible behavior, and recognition of the value of mangrove ecosystem, including as a carbon sink.

"We have a clear understanding of the management interventions required to secure [mangroves] future,” the report said. “Trends of mangrove loss can be rapidly slowed with good management practices, laws and the establishment of clear frameworks for mangrove ownership, use and management to underpin human activities.”

“Restoration has also been widely applied in many countries and offers the possibility of reversing the patterns of loss and bringing considerable benefits back to many coastal areas,” the report continued. “We hope this policy brief will stimulate greater interest by policy makers in the fate of these valuable ecosystems."