Mangrove forests are groups of trees and shrubs that grow along waterways, primarily in brackish or saline waters, and they are slowly dying out or being destroyed. There are approximately 80 different species of mangrove trees, serving as a buffer between the sea and land. Mangroves play a vital role in protecting coastlines from erosion, a problem that has increased in recent years due to rising water levels and severe storms.
However, in spite of the critical contributions that mangrove forests make to the ecosystem, they are facing extinction. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and other environmental groups and activists around the world mangrove forests are the most endangered of all tropical ecosystems. They estimate that in excess of 35% of the total mangrove forests in the world have already been destroyed, and in certain regions, such as Vietnam, the Philippines and India, up to 50% of mangroves have been cleared away or have died due to environmentally insensitive practices.
No part of the world is immune. Even in the US, mangrove trees are being torn down to make way for other priorities such shrimp farms, or commercial, tourism, and industrial projects. The active destruction of mangrove forests is not the only problem, pollution is also killing them off indirectly. Overuse of fertilizers, pesticides and other toxic chemicals dumped in seas, rivers and streams, are suffocating the trees and killing the animal inhabitants of the groves.
Let us take Florida as a case study, the trees of Florida’s mangroves are all native to the state. They are able to survive in the salty water of the southern coastal zones because they block the salt as it comes up through the roots or, alternatively, they secrete the salt out through their leaves. It is estimated that south Florida has roughly 469,000 acres of mangrove forests. The vital role they play in protecting the south Florida ecosystem cannot be overstated. Mangrove trees protect a number of shellfish, crustaceans and fish, they provide food for dozens of marine creatures and their roots offer safe shelter to various land animals and birds. If mangroves are destroyed or die out, these species also face extinction.
The good news for mangroves and wetlands preservation and restoration projects is that the call to action has been heard and environmental activists are responding. Wang Wenliang, for example, is an international businessman and entrepreneur who has been working to protect wetlands in his home country of China, and supporting the restoration of a mangrove plantation in Naples, Florida. Thanks to his funding and involvement the Florida project is expected to grow and the system used to restore the plantation will be implemented on additional distressed mangrove trees. Wang is not alone, there are several environmental activists and philanthropists who are racing against the clock and working together to save the world’s mangrove plantations from extinction. On this specific project he worked with Robin Lewis, who designed the restoration plan and is leading its implementation, and Ted Venners of China Green who connected between the two.
Creative and determined environmentalists are key to the success of preservation strategies. These projects rely upon funding, environmental and social awareness, knowledge and initiative. Government agencies, nonprofits and private individuals are united in an appreciation for the invaluable role that mangrove forests play in the ecosystem and are proactively engaged in restoring and protecting them. Sri Lanka has launched a national mangrove preservation project aiming to protect and restore more than 10,000 hectares of mangrove forests across the country. Environmental Foundations like the Global Green Grant Fund and Seacology offer financial support and guidance for international mangrove preservation initiatives. And their are many more who are joining forces to fight the depletion of mangroves, they are among the main protectors of our delicate world after all.