Importance of Mangroves in Maintaining Coastal Ecology and Causes of Their Depletion-Explained

Updated December 20, 2022

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What are mangroves and Mangroves Biome 

Shrubs or small trees that grow in coastal saline or brackish water and are adapted to low oxygen conditions, known as mangroves. Tropical coastal vegetation consisting of such species is also categorized under mangroves or the term mangrove is also used for such vegetation. Tropics and subtropics are the places where Mangroves occur worldwide, mainly between latitudes 25° N and 25° S. In 2002 the total mangrove forest area of the world was 137,800 km2 (53,200 mile2), spread over 118 countries and territories.

Mangroves are the trees that are salt-tolerant and are adapted to live in harsh coastal conditions and are also called halophytes. To cope with salt water immersion and wave action, Mangroves possess a complex salt filtration system and complex root system. Waterlogged mud contains very low oxygen conditions and they are adapted to it.

The word Mangroves is used in at least three senses: (i). most broadly it is used to refer to the habitat and entire plant assemblage or mangal, for which the terms mangrove forest biome, and mangrove swamp are also used, (ii). to refer to all trees and large shrubs in a mangrove swamp, and (iii). narrowly to refer just to “true” mangrove trees of the genus Rhizophora of the family Rhizophoraceae.

The mangrove biome, or mangal, is a distinct saline woodland or shrubland habitat usually found in tropical areas across coastlines, rivers, and creeks, meaning that it mainly supports water-based flora and fauna like crabs, fish, and salt water-tolerant plants. It is mostly located where the climate is usually humid and hot, meaning that close to the Earth’s equator. The range of toleration of saline conditions by various mangrove species from brackish water, through pure seawater, is 3 to 4%.

According to a NASA-led study based on satellite data, Mangrove forests are among the planet’s best carbon scrubbers because they move carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into long-term storage in greater quantities compared to other forests. Amongst all this one is very much significant importance of mangroves.

Importance of Mangroves in Maintaining Coastal Ecology

The importance of mangroves can be seen in maintaining coastal ecology as they perform important ecological functions like coastal protection, hydrological regime, fish-fauna production, nutrient cycling, etc. Mangroves act as a coastal shield as they help prevent soil erosion by reducing high tides and waves. In addition to protecting or maintaining coastal ecology, one more importance of mangroves experienced by coastal communities. Mangroves not only feed or provide support to their inhabitant species but they also provide livelihood opportunities to coastal communities.

They Protect Shoreline

Mangroves protect shorelines from erosion. They protect shorelines from the destruction caused due to cyclones or storms, as mangroves act as a coastal shield. Mangroves also help prevent erosion by stabilizing sediments with their tangled root systems. They maintain water quality and clarity, filtering pollutants and trapping sediments originating from land.

They Nurture Fishes and Invertebrates

For different fish and invertebrates, Mangroves serve as valuable nursery areas. Mangroves are a critical part of Florida’s commercial and recreational fishing industries, as it serves as valuable nursery areas for shrimp, crustaceans, mollusks, and fishes. These habitats possess a rich source of food for different fish and invertebrates while also offering refuge from predation. Jack, gray snapper, Snook, tarpon,  sheepshead and red drum all feed in the Mangroves. Declination of mangrove habitats would create a great loss for Florida’s fisheries.  Without access to healthy Mangroves, nursery areas of fishes and invertebrates would suffer a dramatic decline which directly or indirectly will affect the growth of its inhabitant.

They Provide Support to Threatened and Endangered Species

Mangroves ensure support to threatened and endangered Species as it offering refuge from predation. They not only support a number of threatened and endangered species but also to commercially important species.

Threatened species include: American alligator, Green sea turtle, Loggerhead sea turtle, etc. and Endangered species include: American crocodile, Hawksbill sea turtle, Eastern indigo snake, Atlantic saltmarsh snake, Southern bald eagle, Peregrine falcon, Brown pelican, West Indian manatee, Atlantic ridley sea turtle, key deer, Honey bee, etc.

At least during some portion of their lifespan, mangroves system is utilized by these species while many other species completely reside their life spans, feeding, and nesting within the mangroves.

They are used as a Renewable Resource

In many parts of the world, Mangroves are utilized as a renewable resource. Various purposes like durable and water-resistant wood mangroves are harvested for. Because of such quality Mangroves have been used in building houses, boats, pilings, and furniture. In the production of charcoal, the wood of the black mangrove and buttonwood trees have also been utilized. Dyes like Tannins and various others are extracted from mangrove bark. Not only the wood and bark of the Mangroves are useful but also the leaves are very useful. Leaves of mangroves have been used in livestock feed, medicine, tea, and also as a substitute for tobacco for smoking. In order to use the nectar in honey production, beekeepers in Florida have set up their hives close to mangroves.

Ecotone region

An ecotone is heterogeneous vegetation zones, where two communities meet and integrate. It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local or regional. The mangroves show similar effects, which means that they have large species diversity in comparison to marine or terrestrial ecosystems. And they are important features of the landscape for several reasons, including their sensitivity to environmental change.

Thus, it can be said from the above statement that mangroves play an important role in sustaining and preserving the coastal ecosystem. The threats posed by human activities can upset the natural balance and cause their depletion.

Causes of mangroves depletion

Due to their role as a sustainer of the biological diversity of the region, Mangroves are one of the most precious elements of coastal ecology as they serve as nursery areas for mangroves species and also protect the shoreline from damaging storm and hurricane winds, waves, and floods. Nowadays the mangroves are facing various threats posed by human activities, causing widespread destruction.

The rise in Sea level and coastal erosion

Nowadays the emission of green-house gases has increased to a larger extent which resulted in global warming. Due to global warming, the glaciers are continuously melting which causes the rise in sea levels. Large areas of mangrove forests have been flooded due to the rise in sea levels which resulted in their depletion. Their depletion has been boosted by continuous erosion by sea towards the land.

Reduction in levels of river water

Areas where the rivers meet the sea, the mangroves are more prevalent there because it requires a fine balance between salt and sweet water for the mangroves ecosystem to survive. Human activities like the construction of dams have reduced the level of river water which resulted in the destruction of mangroves.

Invasion by alien species

Invasive alien species are plants, animals, pathogens, and other organisms that are non-native to an ecosystem, and which may cause harm to the ecosystem.

Similarly, threats are posed to the endemic species of the region due to the familiarization of non-native and alien species of plants and animals which cause an imbalance in ecological structure, resulting in depletion of mangroves.

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