On World Mangrove Day, a new strategy to protect the world’s most important ecosystem

© Matthew D Potenski 2011/Marine Photobank

Editor’s note: Mangrove forests are the world’s most productive and important ecosystem, but they’re being wiped out by unsustainable agriculture and other threats. The Global Mangrove Alliance, a new collaboration between Conservation International (CI),and partners, is working to reverse the destruction of these forests.

As coastal communities face the effects of overfishing and sea-level rise, restoring mangroves has never been more important. On World Mangrove Day, CI’s manager for oceans and climate, Jorge Ramos, unveils the Alliance’s strategy to protect them.

Why mangroves matter

Mangrove forests are amazing ecosystems that grow along tropical coasts, where they thrive in saltwater and tidal conditions. Mangrove ecosystems are some of the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet: They serve as important habitats for fish, sharks, manatees, crabs and other important species; provide food, jobs and other resources to communities around the world; and protect some of the most vulnerable coastal communities from the devastating impacts of climate change. Lastly, although mangrove forests cover just 0.1 percent of our planet’s land surface, they store more carbon than any other type of forest and are therefore an important part of the solution to climate change.

Approximately 75 percent of the world’s mangrove forests are found in just 15 countries. Indonesia, a country of 17,000 tropical islands, has by far the largest mangrove forest cover, followed by Brazil, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Despite their wide-ranging benefits and importance, mangroves are being destroyed and degraded at an alarming rate. Around the tropics, mangrove forests are being cleared for cleared for aquaculture (fish and shrimp ponds) and other agriculture as well as coastal urban development along the coasts. They also suffer from land based pollution and from impacts of rapid sea-level rise.

Unsustainable aquaculture is the largest and most pressing threat to mangrove ecosystems worldwide with increasing rates of pond development in Asia and South America. For example, while Indonesia today is home to 22 percent of the world’s mangroves, in the last 30 years, Indonesia has lost 40 percent of its mangroves, mainly as a result of shrimp and fish ponds. Recently, palm oil plantations have also been an additional pressure on Indonesian mangroves.

This is where the Global Mangrove Alliance comes in

The Global Mangrove Alliance (GMA) is a commitment from the international community to reverse the loss of critically important mangrove habitats worldwide. The GMA has the ambitious goal of expanding the global extent of mangrove habitat by 20 percent by 2030.

The Alliance is coordinated by Conservation International, International Union for Conservation of Nature, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Wetlands International. Together with the other members the Alliance, these organizations will build on current global efforts to conserve and restore mangroves so that together we can increase funding, strengthen scientific research, improve coastal management and support governments to implement policies that accelerate conservation and restoration of mangroves at the global scale that matters.

“The goal of the Global Mangrove Alliance is to change the way that people see and value mangroves, which will lead to an increased commitment to conserve and restore these amazing systems,” says Jennifer Howard, director of marine climate change for CI. “If we are to reach a net increase in mangrove cover of 20 percent by 2030, we need more organizations, governments, private companies, and funding organizations to commit to making mangroves a priority.”

The GMA will link the essential role of mangroves for climate change adaptation and mitigation with responsible and sustainable use of mangrove resources and ultimately to protect biodiversity and improve the well-being of more than 10 million people who are directly dependent on coastal ecosystems for their food security and livelihoods.

Want to help protect mangroves? Here’s how

There are many ways you can help protect these ecosystems. Look for sustainable alternatives to eating farmed shrimp from mangrove areas. Find local conservation and government organizations in your area that are working to conserve mangrove forests, and support them. Remember, conservation of mangrove ecosystems is more than just planting new trees. It includes, science, policy, education and much more.

After all, keeping mangroves healthy is critical to human well-being. “Mangrove ecosystems support a wide diversity of people that live and depend on them,” says Emily Pidgeon, CI’s senior director for strategic marine initiatives. “From the coasts of Brazil to Indonesia, from Liberia to my home in Australia, mangroves are essential to coastal communities.”

Jorge Ramos is CI’s manager for oceans and climate.

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