By Daniel Kandy
The World Mangrove Atlas revealed some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the loss of mangroves has slowed to 0.7 percent annually. The bad news is that that rate is still three to four times higher than the loss rate of land-based forest and one fifth of all of the world’s mangroves are thought to have been lost in the past three decades. Of the world’s original mangrove forest area, estimated at 80 million acres, less than 37 million acres of mangroves now remain.
Mangrove forests exist in tropical and sub-tropical regions, with Indonesia, Brazil, Australia, Nigeria, and Mexico having the largest total area of mangroves. 2010 is the United Nation’s International Year of Biodiversity and there have been some positive developments in mangrove conservation. There are 1,200 protected areas in places like the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia, and many countries, including Belize and Fiji, are beginning or escalating major mangrove restoration initiatives.
The main culprits of mangrove degradation and destruction are coastal development and shrimp farming. While these practices can bring short-term economic development, over time the shrimp farms become less and less productive, often leaving the shrimp farmer in debt, and the mangrove area damaged beyond repair.
Because mangroves provide services to people, such as purifying water and protecting the coast, experts estimate that mangroves generate up to $9,000 per hectare. This amount is considerably more than aquaculture or tourism that damages the mangroves. Mangroves are often important in local economies, providing timber for construction and a source for protein, including fish and crustaceans, who inhabit the mangroves.
Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Adam Steiner, hopes that “together, the science and the economics can drive policy shifts.” The reduced pace of mangrove destruction is a good start, but with so much of the original mangrove forests already gone, it is time to stop destroying mangroves forever.
Read the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report on mangroves between 1980 and 2005.
Daniel Kandy is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project