The crucial roles of mangroves and the threats to these unique ecosystems take center stage globally on Tuesday on the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, or World Mangrove Day.
The international day, celebrated on July 26 every year since 2015, aims to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems as a “unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem”.
Since mangroves grow along tropical coasts and in saltwater environments at the boundary between land and sea, they are considered an essential part of marine ecosystems, serving as nurseries for many aquatic species, including including commercially important fish species.
Mangroves also reduce the impacts of storms and control coastal erosion, as mangroves are known to have even reduced the impact of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.
“Mangroves act as a form of natural coastal defense against storm surges, tsunamis, sea level rise and erosion. Their soils are very efficient carbon sinks, sequestering large amounts of carbon” , according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). ).
UN figures indicate that one hectare of mangrove forest can store 3,754 tons of carbon, which is equivalent to taking more than 2,650 cars off the road for a year.
In total, the world’s mangroves store carbon equivalent to more than 21 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.
Additionally, the mangroves are home to rich wildlife, including 341 internationally threatened species ranging from tigers to seahorses.
The area of mangrove habitat worldwide is approximately 135,881 square kilometers (52,464 square miles), representing a linear coverage of 11.96% of the total global coastline according to 2016 data.
But these rich ecosystems, which also play a crucial role in climate change adaptation and mitigation, are at huge risk as they are disappearing three to five times faster than total forest loss.
“Some countries are estimated to have lost more than 40% of their mangroves between 1980 and 2005, often due to coastal development,” UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said earlier.
According to the latest statistics, these globally rare forests are found in 123 nations and territories but represent less than 1% of all the world’s tropical forests and less than 0.4% of the global forest estate.
These ecosystems are also threatened by conversion to aquaculture and agriculture and urban and seaside development as well as sea level rise.
Since mangroves act as nurseries for fish and are home to various species of animals, experts warn that shrinking mangroves may affect coastal communities that depend on fishing for their long-term livelihood.
If mangroves are destroyed, degraded or lost, large amounts of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere, experts warn, adding that carbon emissions from mangrove deforestation are up to 10% of emissions from to deforestation in the world, although they cover only 0.7% of the total land. cover.
It is also estimated that flood damage would increase by more than $65 billion, while an additional 15 million people would be flooded each year.
Urgent need for protection
To stem the alarming decline of mangroves, international organizations, including United Nations agencies and conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs), are continuing their protection efforts by carrying out a number of studies and projects as well as monitoring mangrove resources for conservation purposes.
A report titled The State of the World’s Mangroves 2021 found that the greatest net losses of mangroves were in Southeast Asia at 6%, and North and Central America and the Caribbean at 7%.
Meanwhile, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil, Myanmar, Australia, Thailand, Mozambique, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh were the 10 countries in the world with the biggest gains in l extent of mangrove habitat between 1996 and 2016, notes the report published by the Global Mangrove Alliance.
However, the extent of the world’s mangroves has decreased by a total of 6,057 square kilometers (2,338 sq mi) over the same period.
To revive these vulnerable ecosystems, UNESCO carries out various projects, including the “Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme” and the “International Blue Carbon Initiative” as well as the protection of mangroves by naming them “ world heritage sites”.
The Global Mangrove Alliance works to protect mangroves using several tools.
Aiming to bring together governments, NGOs, scientists and local communities, the alliance provides live maps of mangrove areas around the world.
“Green-Grey Infrastructure in the Philippines”, “Land-use planning in Liberia” and “Valuing Blue Carbon in the Kaimana MPA” are among the alliance’s projects.
The annual Mangrove Photography Awards are another initiative to raise awareness in this regard, launched by the non-profit organization Mangrove Action Project, based in the United States.
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