Mangrove forests are hidden lungs of the Earth

Forests come in all shapes and sizes – deciduous, evergreen, tropical or temperate, to name a few. Did you know that one type of forest can grow where few trees dare to go?

Salty, brackish water is hardly the ideal environment for most trees, plants or shrubs to spring from, but mangroves somehow sidestep this, simply refusing to be held back like other trees would be. We consider the Amazon rainforest to be the lungs of the Earth, but mangrove forests also play a role in helping us breathe easier.

Mangroves are a fantastic way of storing large quantifies of carbon, so let’s learn what we can do to protect these forests.

Carbon kept under lock and key

Forests are one of the nature’s most effective ways at eliminating excess amounts of carbon in our atmosphere. Each time people cut down and incinerate forests, the carbon stored within trees is released into the air, changing the composition of our atmosphere, accelerating the trend towards irreversible climate change down the road.

Mangroves might not seem as important as our tropical rainforests, but they are phenomenally good at storing carbon, by absorbing it through respiration and transferring it into biomass which ends up in the soil from which they spring up from. In some cases, the carbon deposited in mangrove soil has been sequestered for thousands of years.

A study found that mangrove soil held as much as 6.4 billion metric tonnes of carbon in 2000, but that the loss of mangrove habitats due to deforestation between 2000-2015 resulted in 122 million tonnes of stored carbon being released into the atmosphere. This is akin to the annual carbon emissions for Brazil.

Looking out for our mangroves

Mangroves thrive in salt-marshes across tropical parts of the planet, but the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) claims that they are under continual threat from human populations, due to being perceived as unproductive or of little value in an agricultural sense. When they are used, it often involves destruction on a mass scale, to create firewood or pulp for paper and other materials.

We don’t just need to watch out for the carbon released through the destruction of mangrove forests – the watery roots of these majestic shrubs often serve as safe havens for various forms of marine life which cling to the shores, away from the clutches of larger predators. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) wrote at great lengths about how mangrove forests serve as nurseries for numerous species of fish.

By protecting the mangroves from being torn up and destroyed, we can act to protect two of the world’s most endangered species of fish, the beautiful rainbow parrotfish, as well as the goliath grouper, a huge breed which takes much longer to replenish its population than other species.

The choice is ours – to discard mangroves as apparently valueless, when faced by our appetite for raw materials, or a valuable asset which must be protected, to not only help store large quantities of carbon, but to preserve a delicate ecological chain extending into the depths of the oceans themselves.

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