Mangroves are unique and incredibly beneficial trees bordering coastlines throughout the world. They are among the only trees that can survive in saltwater and come in various sizes. Likewise, mangroves act as a barrier along the shore to help lessen the damage of hurricanes while simultaneously providing a thriving habitat for marine ecosystems.
Unfortunately, due to urban expansion and a rising sea level, mangrove populations have significantly decreased since the industrial revolution. One study conducted in 2012 found that, between 1980 and 2000, a whopping 35% of the mangrove population decreased.
In addition, mangroves are "largely restricted to the tropics and few warm temperate regions at the latitudes between 30°N and 30°S." Indonesia, Myanmar, and Malaysia are among the top three that experience the most mangrove loss.
Since knowledge has come to light of their roles in community safety, thriving ecosystems, and climate change remediation, a plethora of individuals and organizations are working endlessly to restore these trees.
The Nature Conservancy and Wetlands International are among these restoration efforts. In partnership with many organizations, such as NASA and JAXA, the companies are banding together to incorporate technological advancement with agricultural practices via the Global Mangrove Watch initiative.
Up until recently, knowledge of mangrove deterioration and restoration was limited, as monitoring these trees was difficult.
By utilizing remote sensing data, this project looks to change that. Thanks to detailed mapping via satellites, the Watch initiative will be able to:
- Quickly discover illegal mangrove conversion.
- Provide yearly mangrove threat maps.
- Provide a real-time update on mangrove habitats to determine if specific conservation techniques are successful.
- Monitor mangroves throughout varying weather patterns to determine how various types of these trees hold up against different climates.
The sourced data will act as an imperative tool to fight climate change and even has potential to be scaled up in the future.
More than hurricane prevention
Mangroves are more than merely saltwater trees. Scientists have long been enthralled with the tree's multitude of abilities and incredible durability that can withstand strong waves and coastal winds.
Over the years, researchers have gained an even deeper understanding of the role mangroves can play in fighting climate change.
A study conducted in 2012 found that mangroves do more for local ecosystems than many previously thought; one way is by sequestering carbon.
According to the report, mangroves are highly productive, one of the most carbon-rich biomes, and are believed to capture carbon at rates similar to humid tropical forests. Another study later published in 2018 backed up this claim of immense sequestration and even found that, in the year 2000, mangroves held roughly 6.4 billion metric tons of carbon, far more than earlier estimations. Moreover, the paper found that "as coastal habitats they account for 14% of carbon sequestration by the global ocean."
Finally, mangroves can indirectly aid in climate change remediation due to their ability to protect coastal villages from some natural disasters. This leads to fewer resources needed for community rebuild, less waste, and less energy used overall.
In light of mangroves’ carbon sequestration, habitat enrichment, and hurricane prevention, many groups and even local governments around the globe are advocating for restoration.
Advancing Technology to Restore Mangroves
Despite their various benefits, mangroves alone cannot solve climate change. Like trees, a mangrove stores carbon for the duration of its life. Once it dies, whether naturally or as a result of habitat loss, that sequestered carbon is released.
Further, due to deforestation, mangroves are severely lacking around the world. Some estimates place mangrove populations accounting for just 1% of global land.
Initiatives like the Global Mangrove Watch can help improve these numbers. By monitoring these trees, researchers will gain a better understanding of which remediation processes work best, resulting in more efficient and effective reforestation. They will also lessen a certain amount of future deforestation, preventing that captured carbon from being re-released.
The success of this technology and information gathering can lead other companies and organizations to implement similar programs for various other habitats around the globe; the options are truly endless. Finally, the growing onslaught of technological innovation provides the potential to streamline restoration efforts even more, leading the way to even greater outcomes. Ultimately, every little effort helps in the global fight against climate change. This initiative is certainly a step in the right direction.