Mangroves in Kiribati, photo: UNEP
The United Nations Environment Programme is touting the first global assessment in a decade of the state of the world's mangrove forests and the prognosis isn't particularly good: The report found that, despite conservation efforts and slowing rates of clearance, mangroves are being cleared at three to four times the rate of other forests.Since 1980 about 20% of the mangrove forests have been cleared. Considering that mangroves are worth between $2000-9000 per hectare annually in ecosystem services (providing flood defense, spawning grounds for fish, carbon storage, etc) and direct revenue (fishing, etc), that's both an ecologic and economic tragedy.
Mangrove forests are the ultimate illustration of why humans need nature. In place after place the book details the extraordinary synergies between people and forests. The trees provide hard, rot-resistant timber and make some of the best charcoal in the world. The waters all around foster some of the greatest productivity of fish and shellfish in any coastal waters. What's more, mangrove forests help prevent erosion and mitigate natural hazards from cyclones to tsunamis. These are natural coastal defenses whose importance will only grow as sea level rise becomes a reality around the world.
The report does make note of genuine progress being made though: Mangrove restoration efforts now cover 400,000 hectares of forest; there are now 1,200 protected areas, covering a quarter of the remaining mangrove forest.
Governments are finally waking up and seeing that long term preservation of natural areas provides greater benefits than just seeking short term profits.
The World Atlas of Mangroves is a joint project of the ITTO, the International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems, the UN FAO, UNEP, UNESCO, the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment & Health, and the Nature Conservancy.
More on Mangroves:
Sixteen Percent of the World's Mangrove Forests Threatened with Extinction
Mangroves & Coastal Wetlands Store 50 Times More Carbon Than Tropical Forests, by Area
Mangrove Loss Left Burma Exposed to Cyclone
Oil Spill in the Mangroves Is a Disgusting, Stick Mess (Exclusive Photos + Video)