Mapping Mangroves

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented new findings regarding the state of the world’s mangrove ecosystems last Saturday, ‘World Wetland Day’. The research finds that 20% of the world’s mangroves have been destroyed since 1980 and recommends urgent action to avoid the environmental and economic damages caused by this destruction.

Mangroves are tolerant evergreen forests that grow in the saline waters of coastlines, lagoons, rivers and deltas in more than 100 tropical and subtropical countries. 50 percent of the world’s total mangrove area is found within just five countries: Indonesia, Australia, Brazil, Nigeria and Mexico.

These important ecosystems have many important functions. As a habitat, they are home to a wide range of animal species and many fish and shellfish depend on them for filtering sediment and pollution and reducing disturbance to the delicate balance of other ecosystems, such as coral reefs. In addition, mangroves protect against erosion, cyclones and wind, as well as providing wood, food, fodder, medicine and honey for human use.

Primary causes of mangrove destruction include population pressure, conversion for shrimp and fish farming, agriculture, tourism and infrastructure development, pollution and natural disasters. The FAO has warned that nations must adopt more effective conservation and sustainable management of their mangroves and other wetland ecosystems.

‘Mangroves are important forested wetlands and most countries have now
banned the conversion of mangroves for aquaculture and they assess the impact on the environment before using mangrove areas for other purposes,’ said Wulf Killmann, the director of the FAO’s forest products and industry division.

‘This has lead to better protection and management of mangroves in some countries. But overall, the loss of these coastal forests remains alarming. The rate of mangrove loss is significantly higher than the loss of any other types of forests,’ added Killmann.

The FAO prepared the assessment of the world’s mangroves from 1980–2005 in collaboration with specialists around the world and funding from the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). A World Atlas of Mangroves is due to be published later this year by the FAO, ITTO and the International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems.

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