Mangroves Could Help Save Us From Climate Change. Climate Change Is Killing Mangroves.
By Melissa Gaskill
During a trip to Cuba's Gardens of the Queen a few years ago, I found myself around small mangrove islands in an area called Boca Grande. Floating on clear, calm water, my travel group and I kicked over tall seagrass beds and rays camouflaged in the sandy flats. Fish of all kinds and sizes hung out among the tree roots, including huge cubera snappers. An hour stretched into two, this enormous saltwater aquarium proving as fascinating as the nearby, healthy coral reefs.
Mangrove forests like this may be one of the world's most underappreciated landscapes. They provide important habitat for a wide variety of terrestrial, estuarine and marine species — from fish to birds and manatees — and supply nutrients and sediments for seagrass-bed and coral-reef habitats.
A pelican enjoys a perch in a mangrove stand in the Galapagos. Hans Johnson / CC BY 2.0
These ecosystems also protect the shore. Laura Geselbracht, a marine scientist and coastal restoration expert with The Nature Conservancy Florida, reports that mangroves prevented an additional $1.5 billion in direct damages in that state from 2017's Hurricane Irma. An analysis by The Nature Conservancy, University of California Santa Cruz and Risk Management Solutions found that just 100 yards of mangrove trees can reduce wave height by 66%.
And mangrove forests also help mitigate climate change, pulling massive amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and storing them in their soils — up to four times as much carbon as other tropical forests. A 2018 study calculated that the world's mangrove forests suck up more than 6 billion tons of carbon a year.
That's the good news. The bad news: Mangroves face numerous threats — 35% were lost between 1980 and 2000, and since the turn of the 21st century almost 1 in 50 of the remaining mangrove forests has been cut down.
Today, one of the direst threats to their continued existence comes from rising sea levels caused by climate change.
A paper published in Science in June looked at data on thousands of years of sea-level rise and mangrove accretion. (Accretion is the opposite of coastal erosion: Instead of wearing away, soil builds up around the roots and lifts trees vertically, keeping them above water.) While a mangrove's lower trunk and roots live underwater, its upper trunk and leaves live above the waterline. And when the water gets too high, and the accretion process fails to support mangroves, the trees effectively drown.
Mangroves underwater, near Queensland, Australia. Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble / CC BY 2.0
The authors determined that accretion will not keep up beyond sea-level rise of 0.27 inches per year. Rutgers University climate data scientist Erica Ashe, one of the authors, says the current global rate is 0.134 inches, with some areas experiencing much higher rates. In Louisiana, for example, the effect of rising water is compounded by land sinking due to water removal and sediment compaction.
Based on projected rates, mangrove trees could lose their race against rising water within the next 30 years.
"The rate of sea-level rise keeps going up," says Geselbracht, who was not affiliated with the study. "Every time a study looks at it, the rate is faster than we expected."
Mangroves could, in theory, adjust to rising seas by migrating landward, but that's not possible in much of the world because of human development. The trees cannot grow on roads or buildings.
"We need to modify infrastructure, change permitting rules, and come up with other innovative solutions to accommodate that movement," Geselbracht says.
Recent research supports this. A study on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, published this past April, showed that the mangrove areas most affected by human activity there were also the ones least able to adapt to sea-level rise. In other words, just leaving mangroves alone could help.
But the world isn't leaving mangroves alone: We continue to actively destroy their forests at an increasing rate, clearing them for development and aquaculture, timber and fuel.
Colombia, which has approximately 1,467 square miles of mangrove forests on its coasts, is experiencing the highest annual rate of loss in South America — roughly 154 square miles in the past three decades. Primary blame goes to human activities, including logging and development, primarily for tourism.
Mangroves in Colombia. F Delventhal / CC BY 2.0
One of the most striking developing threats is in the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh and India, where the biggest mangrove forest on Earth — covering an area of more than 3,860 square miles — houses at least 505 species of wildlife, including 355 species of birds, 49 mammals and 291 fish. It provides critical habitat for Bengal tigers.
Sharif A. Mukul, a research fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, warned in a recent letter to Science that construction of a 3.8-mile-long bridge, the largest development project in Bangladesh, could destroy the Sundarbans.
"People anticipate much more tourism and industry activity with the bridge," he says. "The second to largest seaport [in Bangladesh] is close to Sundarbans. After completion of the bridge, the port likely will be used more frequently, with more factories and that sort of thing."
A birding safari in the Sunderbans. Ankur Panchbudhe / CC BY 2.0
The Sundarbans are particularly important for protection from cyclones, Mukul adds, which have increased in number and intensity in the past few years. Fifteen percent of tropical cyclones form in this region. The country's annual monsoon season has also worsened, including catastrophic floods this summer.
In addition, Bangladesh already has seen significant loss of mangrove forests to shrimp farming.
The bridge will bring economic benefits to the region and Mukul does not argue against its construction, but rather for doing it in a way that protects local ecosystems and their services. "The government is definitely focusing only on development and not the environment," he says. "They should do the project in a more environmentally friendly way."
The country has company in that regard. The UNESCO Mangrove Biosphere Reserve near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam contains one of the world's largest rehabilitated mangrove forests. That country recently approved a $9.3 billion tourist development to be built largely on filled-in coastal land within the reserve's buffer zone. This project also includes a massive bridge.
Big Cypress National Preserve (uncredited) (Public domain)
And in the United States, Geselbracht says, Florida continues to lose swaths of mangroves to physical removal.
"People on the coast don't want mangroves blocking their view," she says. The state now has laws regulating removal of mangroves, which has slowed their loss. But certain types of removals remain legal, Geselbracht says, including some for storm-retention ponds. "It astounds me that no one does a cost-benefit analysis to show that removing them increases rather than decreases pollution and damages."
In a particularly vicious twist, taking out mangroves not only eliminates their potential for storing carbon, it releases significant amounts — increasing the threats of climate change and sea-level rise and putting even more mangroves, and the communities and habitats around them, at risk. Between 2000 and 2015 mangrove destruction released up to 122 million tons of carbon — more than two and a half times the amount emitted by California wildfires between 2001 and 2010. Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar accounted for more than two-thirds of the released amount.
"We know a lot of reasons why we should curb carbon emissions," says Ashe, author of the new study on sea-level rise. "This is another one. We have an opportunity, if we take this and all the other effects of rising temperatures seriously. It's not too late, but it is urgent."
Wait too long and we'll lose more than prime snorkeling spots.
Melissa Gaskill is a freelance science writer based in Austin whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Mental Floss, Newsweek, Alert Diver and many other publications. She is the co-author of A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles and author of Pandas to Penguins: Ethical Encounters with Animals at Risk.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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