The International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2015 and celebrated each year on 26 July, aims to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems as “a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem” and to promote solutions for their sustainable management, conservation and uses.
Mangrove forests are composed of unique plant species – halophilic trees and shrubs – that have specific morphological, physiological, and reproductive characteristics that enable them to survive in a critical interface among terrestrial, estuarine, and near-shore marine ecosystems in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.
They are considered one of the most productive natural ecosystems on earth because of their relevant ecosystem services and ecological functions, such as being a nesting habitat for fishes, birds, marine mammals, crustaceans, amphibians, and reptiles.
According to the UNESCO, mangrove are disappearing three to five times faster than overall global forest losses, with serious ecological and socio-economic impacts. Current estimates indicate that mangrove coverage has been divided by two in the past 40 years.
Mangrove forests currently occupy less than 14 million hectares, representing less than 1% of the world’s coastal areas, of which more than two-thirds are located in 18 countries: Indonesia, Brazil, Australia, Mexico, Nigeria, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cuba, India, Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
In the last 20 years, it is estimated that 35% of mangrove forests had disappeared. The main reasons of this fact are their direct conversion to different land uses such as aquaculture, agriculture, urbanization, and the alteration in the hydrology of river basins and changes in fluvial sediment inflow.
Although the loss rate of mangrove forest loss has decreased significantly in the last two decades, this ecosystem remains in a critical state with rates of up to 3.1% per year in some countries which is high enough to lead to a loss of their functionality in less than 100 years.
Only 6.9% of the world mangrove are protected, so it is it is urgent to establish new areas of protection for mangrove ecosystems.
Talking about the global concern of climate change, It is estimated that between 0.02 and 0.12 Pg per year of carbon have been released into the atmosphere as a direct consequence of mangrove degradation, which represents 10% of the total emissions resulting from world deforestation.
Ecologists should also consider mangrove forests in the design of climate change adaptation policies since are highly resilient ecosystem that has the capacity to adapt to changing conditions.