The mangrove tree is a halophyte, a plant that thrives in salty conditions. It has the ability to grow where no other tree can, thereby making significant contributions that benefit the environment. The tree is the foundation in a complex marine food chain and the detrital food cycle.
The detrital food cycle was discovered by two biologists from the University of Miami, Eric Heald and William Odum, in 1969. As mangrove leaves drop into tidal waters they are colonized within a few hours by marine bacteria that convert difficult to digest carbon compounds into nitrogen rich detritus material. The resulting pieces covered with microorganisms become food for the smallest animals such as worms, snails, shrimp, molluscs, mussels, barnacles, clams, oysters, and the larger commercially important striped mullet. These detritus eaters are food for carnivores including crabs and fish, subsequently birds and game fish follow the food chain, culminating with man. Many of these species, whose continued existence depends on thriving mangroves, are endangered or threatened. It has been estimated that 75% of the game fish and 90% of the commercial species in certain areas rely on the mangrove system.
The value of red mangrove prop root habitat for a variety of fishes and invertebrates has been quantitatively documented. Data suggest that the prop root environment may be equally or more important to juveniles than are sea grass beds, on a comparable area basis. Discovery of the importance of mangroves in the marine food chain dramatically changed the respective governmental regulation of coastal land use and development.
Despite increasing awareness regarding value and importance, the destruction of mangrove forest continues to take place in many parts of the world under a variety of economic as-well-as political motives. In some areas, mangroves are protected by law but a lack of enforcement coupled with the economic incentive to reclaim land can result in deliberate destruction.
Escalating pressure on mangrove populations and increasing quantities of pollutants reaching coastal and intra-coastal waters has brought new interest in the importance of mangroves to a healthy marine ecology.
Mangrove has in addition to a number of benefits, capacity to mitigate Green House Gases (GHG) by representing a significant capacity in slowing global warming.
The beneficial effects mangroves have on the marine ecology include:
- Basis of a complex marine food chain.
- Creation of breeding habitat.
- Establishment of restrictive impounds that offer protection for maturing offspring.
- Filtering and assimilating pollutants from upland run-off.
- Stabilization of bottom sediments.
- Water quality improvements.
- Protection of shorelines from erosion and extreme weather patterns.
- Protection from cyclones and tidal waves
- Production of nutritious fruits and fuel wood as income generation activities, especially among women in coastal areas.
- Up to five times higher effect in mitigation of CO2 than rainforest trees, partly due to its ability to store large amounts of CO2 in the ground as a permanent sink. It also have an effective cooling effect through its photosynthesis process.
As natural members of the estuary system, mangroves mitigate the adverse effects of development and pollution. It plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy environment in coastal areas in support of higher living standard for the population.
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- Mangroves mitigating 3-5 times more CO2 than rainforest trees
- Protecting lives and properties from extreme weather
- Increasing sea food production with up to 50%
- Filtering and cleaning water
- Providing cooling effect and other vital eco services for life on Earth
- Helping disadvantaged in vulnerable coastal communities with sustainable development to overcome poverty
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Mangrove tree(s) in Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park in Myanmar mitigating1 ton per tree documented in the soil and in the biomass.