Eight years ago, attendees at the 68th United Nations General Assembly declared March 3 as the World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. World Wildlife Day has now become the most important global annual event dedicated to wildlife.
This year, World Wildlife Day will be celebrated under the theme “Forest and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet.” With that theme in mind, I would like to celebrate one of the coolest and important forests for people and wildlife living in coastal areas in subtropical and tropical regions of the world: the mangrove forest.
Mangrove forests are important to people because:
- Mangroves help stabilize coastline ecosystems and prevent erosion.
- Mangroves provide natural infrastructure and protection to coastal communities by absorbing storm surge impacts during hurricanes and other extreme weather events.
- Mangroves help bind and build soils, with their intricate, above-ground root systems slowing water flows and facilitating sediment deposition.
- Mangrove roots also filter nutrients and pollutants from the water, improving the quality of the water flowing from rivers and streams into estuaries and, eventually, the ocean.
- Mangroves sequester great amounts of carbon dioxide, with mangrove forests among the most effective forests at capturing, trapping, and storing carbon dioxide.
- Mangrove forests provide food and subsistence to people, as coastal mangrove shorelines and tree roots are critical spawning and nursing habitat for an array of marine species.
- Mangrove forests provide habitat and refuge to diverse wildlife such as birds, fish, invertebrates, land and marine mammals, and plants.
- Mangrove forests give us a place to observe wildlife and to connect with nature.
Undeniably, mangrove forests are critical to us and wildlife, and we should celebrate them today and every day. But we also need to do a better job at protecting them.
Last year, the non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts noted “In the past 50 years, it is estimated that half of the world’s mangroves have been lost by habitat destruction, coastal development, and overharvesting. As a result, these forests are now some of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth.”
In Florida, regulations protect mangroves. But, like other places around the globe, mangrove forests here still have declined and need our help. We need to raise awareness of the benefits that mangroves provide. We need more waterfront property owners to maintain and restore mangrove shorelines. We need more coastal lands to be protected for the conservation of mangroves and wildlife.
And, simply, we need more mangroves.
Happy World Wildlife Day. And, next time you are in a mangrove forest, make sure to thank those magnificent trees for all the ecological services that they provide us.
For more information about Florida mangrove regulations, please follow this link: floridadep.gov/water/submerged-lands-environmental-resources-coordination/content/mangrove-frequently-asked