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Florida Mangroves, photograph by Liza Schillo

It is estimated that almost half of the world's mangroves have been destroyed by man, and until recently, were classified by most governments as "wastelands" or "useless swamps". Nothing could be farther from the truth! Mangroves are absolutely essential for healthy coastal ecosystems.

Mangrove forests are made up of diverse, salt-tolerant trees and other plant species which have adapted to inter-tidal zone of sheltered tropical shores, "overwash" islands, and estuaries. Mangrove trees have specially adapted aerial and salt-filtering roots and salt-excreting leaves that enable them to survive where other plants cannot and literally live in two worlds at once, acting as the interface between the land and the sea.  The stability mangroves provide is of immense importance to nearby coral reefs and sea grass beds, protecting them from silt damage from shoreline erosion which would happen if they were not present and mangroves also help protect coastlines from storm damage. A recent study by the World Conservation Union determined that the presence of mangrove forests made a huge difference in the destruction suffered by two villages in Sri Lanka as a result of the recent 2005 tsunami disaster. The village protected by mangroves had only two deaths, while the other village, which had cleared mangrove forests in the past to build prawn farms and tourist resorts, saw the death of over 6,000 people.

The mangrove forests of the world are extremely important habitats for a number of other reasons. They offer refuge and nursery grounds for juvenile fish, crabs, shrimps and mollusks, and are prime nesting grounds and migratory sites for hundreds of bird species. A wide variety of organisms utilize mangrove habitats, including many endangered species. An estimated 75 percent of fish caught commercially spend some time in the mangroves or are dependent on food chains which can be traced back to these coastal forests.

Photograph of Florida Overwash Forest  Mangroves by Seacamp Association Inc.

Mangroves vary in height according to species and environment, from little shrubs to giant trees over 40 meters in height. Estimates of the number of mangrove species range from 54 to 75, and the greatest diversity of mangroves occurs in Southeast Asia. Most mangroves live on muddy soils, but they can also grow on peat, coral rock and sand. If tidal conditions are favorable, they can also be found far upstream in the upper reaches of coastal estuaries.

Mangroves occupy 75% of the tropical coastlines in the world, an estimated 22 million hectares. However, over the past several decades, the total global area occupied by mangroves, almost half, has disappeared as a result of a variety of destructive human activities, including overharvesting, freshwater diversion, oil spills, herbicide and human waster runoff, and widespread dredging and clearing for development tourist resorts.  Mangroves quite simply are being devastated by man and are disappearing at an alarming rate. In comparison, natural destruction of mangroves is relatively low compared to widespread human impacts. Mangroves are also commercially attacked as sources of durable and water resistant wood, medicine, tea, livestock feed and charcoal production. All of which however, are destructive also. One of the most damaging of man's activities towards mangrove forests is the rapidly expanding shrimp aquaculture. This practice poses a grave threat to the world's remaining mangroves. Thousands and thousands of hectares of lush mangrove forests have been destroyed to make room for artificial shrimp ponds which in addition to mangrove destruction are sources of intense coastal pollution.

A major solution to this specific type of mangrove destruction includes a more vigorous regulation of national governments over the expanding shrimp farming industry in their countries. The fate of the remaining mangrove forests may now rest in the hands of the consumers from the wealthy nations that import luxury shrimp products produced from shrimp grown in coastal farms. Since a highly profitable and expanding market is the driving force behind the shrimp industry, a worldwide reduction in consumer demand for pond-raised shrimp is called for.

LINKS
 

OFFICIAL, SCIENTIFIC & GOVERNMENTAL SITES

Florida's Mangroves -"Walking Trees"
Florida Marine Research institute article.

Mangroves
Seacamp Assocation Inc. website focusing on Florida's mangroves. Excellent resource.

 
OTHER COUNTRIES

Galapagos Islands Mangroves
Travel guide website guide to mangroves in the Galapagos Islands

Mangroves of Singapore
Published by the Singapore Science Center, supported by BP grant


MISCELLANEOUS

Link Index To Websites About Florida Mangroves
Florida Plant's Online website. Commercial site with good links to other resources.