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Mangrove forests being lost faster than land-based forests – Study

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The United Nations Environment Programme has released the first global assessment of mangroves in over a decade, which reveals that rare and critically important mangrove forests continue to be lost at a rate three to four times higher than land-based global forests, despite positive restoration efforts by some countries.

According to the release issued today Wednesday July 14, 2010,  although about one fifth of all mangroves are thought to have been lost since 1980 and losses are slowing at 0.7 per cent a year, the authors of the report dubbed the World Mangrove Atlas, warn that any further destruction due to shrimp farming and coastal development will cause significant economic and ecological decline.

Economic assessments provide some of the most powerful arguments in favour of mangrove management, protection or restoration. Studies estimate that mangroves generate between US$2000-9000 per hectare annually, considerably more than alternative uses such as aquaculture, agriculture or insensitive tourism.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), mangrove losses have been considerable and are continuing, with some 35,600 square kilometers lost between 1980 and 2005.

Meanwhile, while there are no accurate estimates of the original cover, there is a general consensus that it would have been over 200,000 square kilometers and that considerably more than 50,000 square kilometers or one-quarter of original mangrove cover has been lost as a result of human intervention.

The World Mangrove Atlas puts the global area of mangroves  at 150 000 square kilometers, which is  equivalent to the area of the country Suriname, or the state of Illinois in the USA, or half the area of the Philippines.

It further states that mangrove forests straddle land and sea and are found in 123 countries in tropical and subtropical regions, adding that the nations with the largest mangrove areas include Indonesia with 21 per cent of global mangroves, Brazil with 9 per cent, Australia 7 per cent, Mexico 5 per cent and Nigeria with 5 per cent.

The new atlas also underscores positive trends. It says restoration efforts now cover some 400,000 hectares, as foresighted countries make the link between these coastal forests and economically-important services from flood defenses and fish nurseries to carbon storage to combat climate change.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, which is hosted by UNEP is bringing to the fore the multi-trillion dollar value of the world’s nature-based assets. This atlas brings our attention onto mangroves and puts them up front and central, plotting where they are, describing where they have been lost, and underlining the immense costs those loses have had for people as well as nature”.

“Together, the science and the economics can drive policy shifts. Some 1,200 protected areas are now safeguarding around a quarter of remaining mangroves and many countries are now embarking on major restorations—a positive signal upon which to build and to accelerate a definitive response in 2010, the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity,” he added.

“Mangrove forests are the ultimate illustration of why humans need nature,” says Dr. Mark Spalding, lead author of the World Mangrove Atlas and senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy.

“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.”

“Given their value, there can be no justification for further mangrove loss. What’s urgently needed is for all those working in fields of forestry, fisheries and the environment to work together and communicate their worth, both to the public and to those with the capacity to make a difference”, said Emmanuel Ze Meka, Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) which provided the bulk of funding for the Atlas. This book goes a considerable way to communicating that message.”

“The Nature Conservancy is an organisation with its feet firmly on the ground in 30 countries,” said Mark Terceck, CEO of the Conservancy. “Already we have teams working to protect and restore mangroves from Florida to Indonesia, Palau to Grenada. This book raises the stakes and engenders urgency, but it also offers hope. These are robust and resilient ecosystems. Get things right for them and the payback will be immense: security for rich biodiversity and a lifeline to many of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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