Five Minutes for Mangroves

Posted by KristenM on July 26th, 2010

Hallmark may not have a card for it, but today is International Mangrove Action Day.

Photo of a creek surrounded by a mangrove forest

Photo: Ilka C. Feller/Smithsonian Institution

The occasion is a small but vibrant tradition that has been observed annually on July 26th for nearly a decade in countries around the globe, including the U.S., India, Ecuador, Micronesia and many others. To celebrate, some communities organize protests or restoration projects. Some convene discussions or offer educational lectures about mangrove ecology. Others simply take a moment to appreciate the importance of mangrove forests.

Why have a special day for mangroves? They don’t have the cachet of the giant redwoods or the notoriety of rainforests. In fact, many people find these tough, tropical plants unappealing. When new coastal development takes place in the tropics, mangroves are often one of the first things to go—clearing the swampy shallows to make way for recreational areas or boating facilities.

Photo of scientist standing under the roots of a mangrove tree.

Candy Feller pauses under the roots of a Rhizophora mangle (red mangrove) tree on the Pacific Coast of Panama. Photo: Anne Chamberlain

But mangroves are actually critically important to our coasts and communities.

They serve as barriers against storms and tsunamis, saving lives and protecting property. They filter polluted run-off and provide us with many other benefits, including seafood, fruits, medicines, fiber and wood. All in all, researchers estimate, the world’s mangrove forests provide humans with many billions of dollars worth of free goods and services.

Unfortunately, we’re not treating them with the respect they deserve. In the last decade, at least 35 percent of the world’s mangroves have been destroyed. That’s a rate of loss that exceeds the disappearance of tropical rain forests.

At SERC, senior scientist Candy Feller has been studying mangroves for more than 15 years. She loves scrambling, climbing and crawling through the tangled roots of these swampy forests, even when it means facing harsh conditions, navigating man-made hazards, and—often—learning more bad news about threats to her favorite landscape.

Aerial photo of a coastal shrimp farm.

Mangroves are being decimated by human development, like this shrimp farm in Belize. Photo: Ilka C. Feller/Smithsonian Institution, made possible by LightHawk

Got five minutes for mangroves? Listen in as Feller and fellow SERC ecologist Dennis Whigham compare scars and talk about their explorations in these endangered, fringing forests. Then, if you’ve ever adventured through mangroves, we want to hear your stories. Post them to the mangrove section on the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal.

— By Christine Hoekenga, Ocean Portal


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Wally says:

    Mangrove Action Day. That’s a great thing! As a South Florida fishing guide I can tell you just how increadbly important mangroves are to not only fish, but also the land and people of our coastal communities. Mangroves protect us from coastal errosion, as well as providing habitat for fish.

  2. betsy says:

    I’m glad I stumbled across this article. I live in Panama and my kids and I enjoy the Mangroves.

    We will definately put July 26th in our calendar for a Mangrove visit and celebration.

    I look forward to checking out your links.

  3. Jeff says:

    Love fishing the mangroves!!! Great article.

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