Future of the World’s Mangroves In Danger: Half Face Risk of Collapse Due To Climate Change

Future of the World's Mangroves In Danger: Half Face Risk of Collapse Due To Climate Change

Future of the World's Mangroves In Danger: Half Face Risk of Collapse Due To Climate Change

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Mangroves are ecological powerhouses that store approximately 11 billion tonnes of carbon, which is nearly three times the amount stored by tropical forests of the same size. This immense carbon sequestration capacity positions mangroves as critical in the fight against climate change.

25 May 2024

By Ishika Kumar

In the most fragile dance between nature and human activity, mangrove ecosystems have emerged as one of the most vital yet threatened players. According to a recent comprehensive assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over 50% of the world’s mangrove forests are at risk of collapse. This alarming revelation provokes the urgent need for coordinated global conservation efforts to protect these unique habitats.

The Crucial Role of Mangroves

Mangroves, which line around 15% of the world’s coastlines, are not just picturesque landscapes; they are ecological powerhouses. These forests store approximately 11 billion tonnes of carbon, which is nearly three times the amount stored by tropical forests of the same size. This immense carbon sequestration capacity positions mangroves as critical in the fight against climate change.

Beyond carbon storage, mangroves offer a plethora of essential services. They act as natural barriers against coastal disasters, protecting millions of people and billions of dollars worth of property annually from the ravages of storm surges and floods. Furthermore, they support fisheries, which are crucial for the livelihoods of coastal communities, and filter water, thereby maintaining the health of adjacent marine ecosystems. Mangroves are living and breathing biotas for the earth, preserving nature just by their mere existence. 

Something so integral should not be under threat.

Threats to Mangrove Ecosystems

The IUCN’s Red List of Ecosystems is a global standard for evaluating ecosystem health. It highlights the dire state of mangrove forests. The assessment, involving over 250 experts from 44 countries, identified several key threats: climate change, deforestation, pollution, development and dam construction. 

Among these, climate change and its associated impacts, such as a rise in the sea level and increased frequency of severe storms, pose the most significant risks. The study classified the world’s mangrove ecosystems into 36 regions called provinces and meticulously assessed the threats and risk of collapse in each. The findings were stark: one-third of these ecosystems face severe risk from climate change. Specifically, sea-level rise is expected to submerge 25% of the global mangrove area within the next 50 years. Regions like the Northwest Atlantic, North Indian Ocean, Red Sea, South China Sea and Gulf of Aden are predicted to be particularly affected.

The effects of these threats are not just ecological but also economic. By 2050, the loss of mangrove forests is projected to result in the release of 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon, valued at around USD 13 billion in current voluntary carbon markets. Moreover, the protective services provided by mangroves, which currently shield 15.4 million people and USD 65 billion worth of property annually, could become even more critical as population growth and property values increase.

An Urgent Need for Conservation

“This global assessment has found that 50% of the mangroves worldwide are at risk of collapse, and that is much more than what we expected,” stated Marcos Valderrabano, head of the IUCN’s Red List assessment. The report emphasises that immediate and coordinated conservation efforts are essential to mitigate these risks and preserve the critical functions that mangroves provide.

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN Director General, stressed the importance of this assessment in tracking progress towards halting and reversing biodiversity loss, in line with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. “The first global assessment of mangrove ecosystems gives key guidance that highlights the urgent need for coordinated conservation of mangroves—crucial habitats for millions in vulnerable communities worldwide,” she said. 

Angela Andrade, Chair of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management, added, “Mangrove ecosystems are exceptional in their ability to provide essential services to people, including coastal disaster risk reduction, carbon storage and sequestration, and support for fisheries. Their loss stands to be disastrous for nature and people across the globe.”

Case Studies

Some countries are already taking steps to address the impending crisis. Singapore, for instance, has lost nearly all its coastal mangrove habitats due to extensive land reclamation. However, recognising the critical need for these ecosystems, the city-state is now planning a restoration program aimed at defending its low-lying coastline against rising sea levels.

Elsewhere, the diversion of freshwater for irrigation, alongside deforestation and pollution, continues to exacerbate the vulnerability of mangrove forests. In nations like India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, these combined pressures are expected to hit particularly hard, putting already critically endangered ecosystems at even greater risk.

The path forward requires a multifaceted approach. Protecting existing mangrove forests from further deforestation and degradation is crucial. This can be achieved through stricter enforcement of environmental regulations, sustainable land-use planning and community-based conservation initiatives that involve local stakeholders in the protection and restoration of mangrove habitats.

Direction to Take

Restoration efforts should focus not only on planting new mangroves but also on ensuring that these efforts are sustainable and that they address the underlying causes of mangrove loss. For example, reforestation programs must consider the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and changing weather patterns, to ensure that newly planted mangroves can survive and thrive in the long term.

Additionally, there is a need for greater international cooperation and funding to support mangrove conservation efforts. This includes leveraging market-based mechanisms, such as carbon credits, to provide financial incentives for protecting and restoring mangrove forests.

Lastly, the IUCN’s assessment serves as a wake-up call to the global community. Mangroves are indispensable to environmental health and human well-being, offering critical services that cannot be easily replaced. Their decline is not just a local or regional issue but a global crisis that requires immediate, coordinated action. As the world grapples with the escalating impacts of climate change, the conservation and restoration of mangrove ecosystems must be prioritised to safeguard our planet’s future.

By preserving these vital ecosystems, we protect the myriad species that depend on them and bolster the resilience of human communities against the growing threats posed by climate change. The time to act is now, and the path forward is clear: we must come together to protect and restore the world’s mangroves before it’s too late.