August 21, 2009

Mangrove destruction threatens food supply

Much of coastal Africa's food supply is being threatened by the destruction of swampy mangrove forests, NASA scientists warn.

The groves are being destroyed by pollution, real estate development, and deforestation necessary to sustain large-scale commercial shrimp farming, Lola Fatoyinbo, an environmental scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said Friday in a release.

The groves are essential breeding grounds for fish and shellfish in tropical African countries such as Mozambique and Madagascar, she said.

Satellite studies conducted by Fatoyinbo and her team show more than half of coastal Africa's mangrove forests have disappeared in the last 50 years, with a third of them disappearing in the last 20 years alone.

Mangrove forests are important for rice farming, fishing, timber, firewood and aqua culture in coastal Africa, with some nations increasingly depending on them for eco-tourism, she said.

The large, thick root systems of mangroves process large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, protect against erosion and are a key defense against severe storms, Fatoyinbo said.