What are Mangroves all about?

Mangroves live on the edge of land next to the sea. They live in mud
and salt water in an existence that would kill ordinary plants. They
have enormous root structures that hold them in place. Mangroves have
an ultra filtration system to keep much of the salt out, and support
biologically complex ecosystems in the complexity of roots.

Mangroves act as nursery grounds for fish; a food source for monkeys, deer,
tree-climbing crabs, kangaroos; and nectar source for honeybees and
bats. Birds roost on the canopy, shellfish attach themselves to the
roots, and snakes and crocodiles come to hunt.

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There are 70 species from two-dozen families, and range from humble
shrubs to towering 200-foot-high timber trees. They are most prolific
in Southeast Asia and live mostly within 30 degrees of the Equator,
but some have adapted to temperate zones, and one lives as far from
the Equator as New Zealand. Mangroves exist on the shores of Baja,
California; Florida and Central America, South America, Africa, India,
Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and around the Red Sea. Mangroves are
land builders of superior ability as their plants of interlocking
roots stop river borne sediment from coursing out to sea, and trunks
and branches diminish the erosive power of waves. The mangrove forests
act as supermarkets to the poor throughout the tropical world. They
come as woodcutters, cutters of thatching grass, palm-frond cutters,
harvesters of wild honey, seafood, fruits, medicines and raw materials
and for beer and cigarettes.

Unfortunately, mangroves are under threat worldwide. Housing developments, aquaculture ponds, roads, port facilities, hotels, golf courses, and farms are destroying them. Also, oil spills, chemical pollution, sediment overload and disruption of their sensitive water and salinity balance are all factors working against mangroves. Perhaps the greatest threat to mangroves is from shrimp farming. Shrimp has overtaken tuna to become America’s favorite seafood, and rich countries have an insatiable appetite for it.

The shore zone inhabited by the mangroves is perfect for shrimp farms, and commerce trumps the mangrove. To make matters worse, shrimp farmers abandon their ponds after a few crop cycles – to avoid disease and declining
productivity – and move to new sites, destroying more mangroves. Shrimp farming pioneers, such as Thailand, the Philippines and Ecuador, who have been uprooting their mangroves for decades, are being joined by mangrove-rich Brazil. In the port city of Fortaleza of Brazil, ponds the size of football fields crowd the landscape. Paddle wheel aerators froth the water as workers in kayaks fill feeding trays with fish meal, and even where mangroves have been spared, access is blocked by shrimp farms.

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Villages are shut out from their traditional harvesting grounds in Port do Ceu- ‘the gates of Paradise’ – by an electric fence. Even worse, the shrimp farms have no lining, so salt water has percolated through the sandy soil and contaminated the aquifer beneath. Wells that drew fresh water to the surface are now saline and undrinkable. Demonstrations have been organized against Big Shrimp in Curral Velho, a community to the west of Fortaleza. Land deals have been challenged, and a public education center set up to
raise awareness to the environmental damage the shrimpers are causing.

A less obvious mangrove contribution is the fact that mangrove forests
are highly effective carbon sinks; they absorb carbon dioxide and
reduce greenhouse gases. It has been suggested that mangroves have the
highest net productivity of carbon of any natural ecosystem (about 100
pounds per acre per day) and about a third of that is drawn by organic
compounds in the mudflats. The rest is sequestered in the soil.

Mangroves are carbon factories, and the carbon remains sequestered for thousands of years, but the shrimp ponds allow the stored carbon back into the atmosphere – but 50 times faster than it was sequestered! Calls for mangrove preservation gained following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but only briefly. Intact mangroves served as natural breakwaters, and lessened property damage while saving lives.

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Comments (2)

foe05 (Johannes Brötz)February 11th, 2009 at 9:16 am

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