By Claire Turrell
Languishing in the soft, silty mud, the living fossil looked as if it didn't have a care in the world as it feasted on the fish left stranded in the tidal mangrove pools of the Sungei Buloh wetlands. However, the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) might have been a little less at ease if it knew nearly 90% of its mangrove habitat in Singapore has been lost over the past century.
Smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) have a midday snack at Jurong Eco Garden, Singapore. JJ Harrison / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
A marsh sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Lip Kee / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
Singapore retains very little of its mangrove forests. In contrast, there are still large tracts of mangroves just across the strait in Malaysia.
A Malayan water monitor (Varanus salvator) ponders the future of its habitat. Yeowatzup / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
One of the many denizens of Singapore's forests is the mangrove pitta (Pitta megarhyncha). JJ Harrison / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
A tree-climbing crab (Episesarma spp.) and a couple common nerite snails (Nerita lineata) sale a mangrove tree during high tide, with a giant mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri) close behind. Sundar / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0<p>When it comes to gauging the success of reforestation projects like One Million Trees, Jurgenne Primavera, former co-chair of the IUCN Mangrove Specialist Group, prefers to focus on science and ecology rather than targets or quotas. She said that problems with reforestation projects often arise when the wrong species are planted at the wrong sites. But she adds there are key signs when reforestation has been done effectively.</p><p>"High survival and growth rates and healthy forests of the correct trees species," Primavera told Mongabay. "For mangroves, for example, these would be <em>Avicennia marina </em>and<em> Sonneratia alba </em>along coastlines facing the open sea<em>. </em>For terrestrial species these would be native species and not exotics."</p><p>To safeguard the trees, NParks carries out regular inspections and offers best-practice workshops to organizations across the island. But Adrian Loo said that for the One Million Trees project to be considered effective, everyone needs to be involved: "The success of the project is also measured by our ability to instill a sense of stewardship among Singaporeans — towards our trees and environment."</p>
- Singapore Uses 'Scary' Robot Dog to Enforce Social Distancing ... ›
- Singapore Is the First Country to Ban Ads on Sugary Drinks ... ›
- Australia to Build the World's Largest Solar Farm to Power Singapore ›
- World's Largest Solar Farm to Supply 20% of Singapore's Electricity - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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.
A pelican enjoys a perch in a mangrove stand in the Galapagos. Hans Johnson / CC BY 2.0<p>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%.</p><p>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 <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110404173247.htm" target="_blank">four times</a> as much carbon as other tropical forests. A 2018 study calculated that the world's mangrove forests suck up more than <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aabe1c/pdf" target="_blank">6 billion tons</a> of carbon a year.</p><p>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.</p><p>Today, one of the direst threats to their continued existence comes from rising sea levels caused by climate change.</p><p>A <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6495/1118" target="_blank">paper</a> published in <em>Science</em> 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.</p>
Mangroves underwater, near Queensland, Australia. Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble / CC BY 2.0<p>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.</p><p>Based on projected rates, mangrove trees could lose their race against rising water within the next 30 years.</p><p>"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."</p><p>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.</p><p>"We need to modify infrastructure, change permitting rules, and come up with other innovative solutions to accommodate that movement," Geselbracht says.</p><p>Recent research supports this. A study on Mexico's <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S096456912030106X" target="_blank">Yucatan Peninsula</a>, 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>Colombia, which has approximately 1,467 square miles of mangrove forests on its coasts, is experiencing the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/12/4/1113/htm" target="_blank">highest annual rate</a> 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.</p>
Mangroves in Colombia. F Delventhal / CC BY 2.0<p>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.</p><p>Sharif A. Mukul, a research fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, warned in a recent <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6496/1198.1" target="_blank">letter</a> to <em>Science</em> that construction of a 3.8-mile-long bridge, the largest development project in Bangladesh, could destroy the Sundarbans.</p><p>"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."</p>
A birding safari in the Sunderbans. Ankur Panchbudhe / CC BY 2.0<p>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 <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-13/bangladesh-floods-sees-a-third-of-nation-underwater-coronavirus/12555448" target="_blank">catastrophic floods</a> this summer.</p><p>In addition, Bangladesh already has seen significant loss of mangrove forests to <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226697717_A_unified_framework_for_the_restoration_of_Southeast_Asian_mangroves-Bridging_ecology_society_and_economics" target="_blank">shrimp farming</a>.</p><p>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."</p><p>The country has company in that regard. The UNESCO <a href="http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/ecological-sciences/biosphere-reserves/asia-and-the-pacific/vietnam/can-gio-mangrove" target="_blank">Mangrove Biosphere Reserve</a> near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam contains one of the world's largest rehabilitated mangrove forests. That country recently <a href="https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Vietnam-speeds-up-big-projects-to-heal-economy-from-pandemic" target="_blank">approved</a> 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 <a href="https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/work-on-bridge-to-hcmc-coastal-district-to-begin-in-2022-4119621.html" target="_blank">massive bridge</a>.</p>
Big Cypress National Preserve (uncredited) (Public domain)<p>And in the United States, Geselbracht says, Florida continues to lose swaths of mangroves to physical removal.</p><p>"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."</p><p>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 <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aabe1c/pdf" target="_blank">122 million tons of carbon</a> — more than two and a half times the amount emitted by <a href="https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/news/2016/8/22/back-to-school-burn-the-science-of-wildfires" target="_blank">California wildfires</a> between 2001 and 2010. Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar accounted for more than two-thirds of the released amount.</p>
- Could the 'Mangrove Effect' Save Coasts From Sea Level Rise ... ›
- Amazon Mangroves 'Twice as Carbon Rich' as Its Rainforests ... ›
- Seagrass Could Play a Major Role in Slowing Climate Change ›
By Jun N. Aguirre
An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Mysterious Oil Spill on Massachusetts' Charles River Spurs Major ... ›
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›
Mangroves play a vital role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Mangrove forests are tremendous assets in the fight to stem the climate crisis. They store more carbon than a rainforest of the same size.
- Protecting Mangroves Can Prevent Billions of Dollars in Global ... ›
- Could the 'Mangrove Effect' Save Coasts From Sea Level Rise ... ›
Hurricanes and tropical storms are estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $50 billion yearly in damage from winds and flooding. And as these storms travel across the Atlantic, they also ravage many Caribbean nations.
Tropical storm tracks since 1842. NOAA
Along some 20-kilometer coastal stretches, mangroves provide up to $500,000,000 in flood reduction benefits yearly. Michael Beck, CC BY-ND
- Protecting the World's Wetlands: 5 Essential Reads - EcoWatch ›
- Mexico Is Letting an Oil Company Destroy Protected Mangroves for ... ›
- Mangroves Threatened by Sea Level Rise Could Disappear by 2050 - EcoWatch ›
- NOAA Warns of 'Extraordinary' Increase in Coastal Flooding - EcoWatch ›
Mexico's president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered state-owned oil company, Pemex, to build an $8 billion oil refinery. So, the company has followed orders and razed protected mangrove trees to clear way for the controversial project, according to Quartz. Satellite images posted on Quartz show the cleared land to accommodate the construction.
Pemex's Dos Bocas refinery site. Planet Labs / Quartz<p>Lopez Obrador approved the project in Tabasco, his home state, to revive the state-owned oil giant, which has suffered from dysfunction recently. Shortly after the president approved the project, a third party uprooted large swatches of mangroves, even though they are protected and vital to Mexico's economy, according to Quartz. </p> <p>The complex ecosystems the trees create provide almost 6 percent of Mexico's GDP, according to the University of California, San Diego, as Quartz reported. While the mangroves are supposed to be protected, the satellite imagery shows that they continue to be felled to make way for roads. Pemex, or a third-party, defied a <a href="https://www.gob.mx/asea/prensa/asea-expide-autorizacion-condicionada-del-proyecto-de-construccion-de-la-refineria-dos-bocas-tabasco" target="_blank">government order</a> by cutting down the mangroves and is now asking for permission to raze more so it can build a bridge. </p> <p>The actions have environmental advocates worried about Mexico's commitment to a sustainable future, especially since the government canceled a $700,000 fine for a company accused of destroying thousands of acres of mangroves. </p> <p>"The administration promotes an oil refinery, and to build it destroys threatened mangroves even though Mexico is part of the Paris accords," Alejandra Rabasa, an environmental lawyer in Mexico City, <a href="https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/scenes-crime-mexico-monarch-butterfly-defenders-murder" target="_blank">said to Sierra Club</a>.</p>
By Daisy Dunne
The vast mangroves of the Amazon store twice as much carbon per hectare as the region's tropical forests, new research shows.
The relatively understudied ecosystem also stores 10 times more carbon than Amazon savannahs—a type of grassy plain with sparsely populated trees, according to the study.
Florida is set to lose more than 10 percent of its homes by 2100, and five southern states have already lost $7.4 billion in home values.
- Sea Level Rise Could Put 2.4 Million U.S. Coastal Homes at Risk ›
- Mangroves Threatened by Sea Level Rise Could Disappear by 2050 - EcoWatch ›
The critical role of coastal ecosystem management in curbing climate change and the need to fully integrate it in climate change and biodiversity policies were the focus of the Blue Carbon—Managing Coastal Ecosystems for Cimate Change Mitigation Symposium that took place in the European Parliament in Brussels, Jan. 12.
“Preserving and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems should be fully integrated in all climate change mitigation strategies and biodiversity policies at the international and European level," argued Struan Stevenson, member of the European Parliament and chair of the symposium.
Pia Bucella, director in DG Environment, European Commission urged the European Parliament, as the political arm of the European Union, to raise the profile and encourage the integration of coastal blue carbon-based activities, such as the conservation and restoration of these systems, in climate change policies.
Blue carbon is the carbon stored by coastal and ocean ecosystems. A square mile of coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes, which can be found all over the world except Antarctica, can store and remove more carbon from oceans and the atmosphere than a square mile of mature tropical forests.
But coastal and marine ecosystems are facing some serious threats from pollution, coastal activities and unsustainable management practices. Speakers at the symposium warned that the continued disappearance of coastal ecosystems will have a negative impact on climate change—when lost, they stop sequestering CO2 and release the carbon they have been storing for centuries.
“A single 100g shrimp cocktail that is unsustainably produced through mangrove clearance can have a carbon footprint equivalent to 40 liters of gasoline," said Dr. Boone Kaufman, a professor at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University.
“Blue carbon provides new, compelling reasons to urgently prevent the loss of marine and coastal ecosystems and biodiversity," said Dan Laffoley, vice chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas—Marine. “It’s not just about marine habitats or species, but also about the hidden value they have for humankind. Increasing the restoration and sustainable management of these critically important ecosystems through strong political leadership and ambitious actions is a necessary prerequisite for successful climate change strategies.”
“We need to employ a targeted strategy that prioritizes the conservation of specific, high-carbon coastal zones,” said Dr. Emily Pidgeon, senior director of Strategic Marine Initiatives at Conservation International. “The challenge we face is to show how these ecosystems provide a service, acting as a carbon sponge, and that their conservation does not stand as a roadblock to development or food production.”
Bringing together high level international and European policy makers and experts, the symposium was held back to back with the second workshop of the International Blue Carbon Policy Working Group.
The International Blue Carbon Policy Working Group is part of the Blue Carbon Initiative, the first integrated programme focused on mitigating climate change by conserving and restoring coastal marine ecosystems globally. The initiative is lead by Conservation International, IUCN, and the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission of United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, working with partners from national governments, research institutions, nongovernmental organizations, coastal communities, intergovernmental and international bodies and other relevant stakeholders.
For more information, click here.