Every year, July 26 is celebrated as Day for the Conservation of Mangrove Ecosystem. It was adopted during the 38th session of the general conference of UNESCO held in 2015 and is an important step towards spreading awareness about mangroves and their conservation.

Here is a quick look at what mangroves are and why they are important. Dr. Ajay Kumar, Assistant Professor of Plant Science at Central University of Kerala who has been studying the genetics of mangroves adaptations explains:

Mangroves are a group of unique plants which are adapted to a transition zone between the land and sea and are distributed in coastal regions of nearly 118 countries mostly in the tropics and subtropics. They are essential for the survival of the coastal communities due to a number of reasons as they provide a large number of goods and services to humankind including livelihood opportunities to many communities.

Mangroves provide livelihoods to more than 120 million people globally. They support a large number of other organisms which are also uniquely adapted to the intertidal regions between the land and sea.

Mangroves ecosystems are also known to sequester tonnes of carbon thus contributing to mitigating global climate change. Their extensive roots protect the coastal communities by acting as bio shields especially during sea waves, tsunamis, and cyclones. The mangroves’ unique roots protect the water from entering the human settled areas. They are an integral part of human lives. Without mangroves, we cannot imagine the survival of coastal communities.

What are the existing threats to mangroves?

We are losing mangroves at a faster rate due to multiple reasons such as overuse, conversion for agriculture, extraction of wood, industrial settlements, construction of roads, and plastic pollution.

Global warming and sea-level rise may lead to further submergence of the mangroves and studies have shown that mangroves are pushed towards land due to sea-level rise over the period of time. However, landward movement is limited by human settlements and other industrial activities. Therefore, mangroves may be squeezed to a level where their conservation and restoration may not be possible.

What happens if all the mangroves are destroyed?

Besides increasing the vulnerability of the coastal communities, the decline of mangroves will also threaten the other organismal diversity that it supports. Despite several studies in the past indicating that coastal areas shielded by the mangroves are less prone to damages caused by tsunamis than without mangroves, they continue to dwindle. The mangroves are an essential part of the “build back better” strategy in response to sea storms, tsunamis, and cyclones.

Are there any global conservation efforts?

Save Our Mangroves Now (A joint effort of BMZ, WWF and IUCN) is an initiative aimed at halting the decline of global mangroves. Although many countries are now aiming at spreading awareness about mangroves and their conservation, several challenges are associated with their restoration.

For example, in Kerala, most of the mangroves are located on private land owned by people and it is difficult to enforce the laws on private lands. However, it is possible to create awareness among the locals about the importance of mangroves; providing stewardship roles to the coastal communities and incentivising them with monetary benefits as well. The landowners can also be provided with tax benefits to conserve the most important and unique ecosystems of the coastal areas.

In addition to creating awareness, strengthening legal frameworks, increasing collaborations between various countries, incorporating best practices from each other, scientific studies are also needed with a focus on understanding their mechanisms to adapt to changing climatic regimes, especially fluctuating salinity of the sea, the decline in the freshwater to the estuaries, and rising global temperatures. It is essential to identify the regional conservation bottlenecks to devise better strategies for their conservation. A common global strategy with set goals must be devised to save our mangroves for a better and sustainable future.

Source: 05 August, 2021, The Indian Express