Mangroves key to climate change

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Monkey eating mangrove shoots at Langkawi Geo Eco Park, Malaysia. Mangroves are being threatened by increasing pressures from rising sea levels, urban and industrial developments, as well as fish farms.Photo courtesy of Khairil Yusof/flickr

BOGOR, Indonesia (April 5, 2011)_A new study has just been published showing that mangroves store exceptionally more carbon than most tropical forests, but they are being destroyed from coastlines at a rapid rate causing  significant emissions of greenhouse gases.

Deforestation and land-use change currently account for 8% to 20% of all global carbon emissions, second only to the use of fossil fuels. Figures now suggest that destruction and degradation of mangrove forests may be generating as much as 10% of all the global deforestation emissions despite accounting for just 0.7% of tropical forest area.

It’s clear that mangroves need to be protected as part of global efforts to combat climate change.

“Mangroves are being destroyed at an alarming rate. This needs to stop. Our research shows that mangroves play a key role in climate change mitigation strategies,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, Senior Scientist at Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a co-author of the paper.

The authors quantified carbon storage in mangroves across a large tract of the Indo-pacific region. They found that most of the carbon is stored in the ground below the mangrove forests that are normally seen above water.

Mangroves occur along the coasts of most major oceans in some 118 countries. They are incredibly important for protecting coastlines from storm surges and fluctuations in sea levels, including from tsunamis.

Rapid 21st century sea level rise has been cited as a primary threat to mangroves, which have responded to past more gradual sea-level changes by migrating landward or upward. Under current climate trends, the sea level is projected to rise 18-79 centimeters this century – and even higher if ice-sheet melting continues accelerating.

A 30% to 50% decline in mangroves over the past half-century has raised fears that they may disappear altogether in as little as 100 years.

“There is a lack of awareness of the full implications of mangrove loss for humankind,” Murdiyarso said. “There is an urgent need for governments to acknowledge their importance and develop better policies to ensure their protection.”

To read the full article go to Nature News: Carbon-rich mangroves ripe for conservation.

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