Global mangroves at risk of collapsing, new report warns

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International Union for Conservation of Nature warns that global mangrove ecosystems are at risk of collapsing, listing them as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered by the organization’s Red List of Ecosystem standards. This is the first time the Red List of Ecosystems standards, which measures the health and risks of specific ecosystems, was used to assess an ecosystem at a global scale.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that 19.6 percent of mangroves, or about one in five, “are considered to be at severe risk of collapse, meaning they rank as endangered or critically endangered,” EcoWatch reported.

“Mangrove ecosystems are exceptional in their ability to provide essential services to people, including coastal disaster risk reduction, carbon storage and sequestration, and support for fisheries,” Angela Andrade, chair of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management, said. “Their loss stands to be disastrous for nature and people across the globe.”

The study assessed the threats and risk of collapse of the world’s mangrove ecosystems in 36 different regions. While it was led by IUCN, there was active involvement of more than 250 experts based in 44 countries.

Image Credit: IUCN

While mangrove ecosystems face a number of threats including deforestation, development, pollution, and dam construction, the IUCN said climate change, in particular, threatens 33 percent of mangroves because they are vulnerable to sea level rise as well as severe weather events.

“The first global assessment of mangrove ecosystems gives key guidance that highlights the urgent need for coordinated conservation of mangroves—crucial habitats for millions in vulnerable communities worldwide,” Grethel Aguilar, IUCN director general, said. “The assessment’s findings will help us work together to restore the mangrove forests that we have lost and protect the ones we still have.”

According to the study, sea level rise will cause the loss of:

  • 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon stored (17 percent of the total current carbon stored in mangroves), currently valued at a minimum of $13 billion at market prices in voluntary carbon markets and representing a cost to society equal to $336 billion based on the social cost of carbon. 
  • protection for 2.1 million lives exposed to coastal flooding (14.5 percent of current lives exposed) and $36 billion worth in protection to properties (35.7 percent of current property values protected) 
  • 17 million days of fishing effort per year (14 percent of current fishing effort is supported by mangroves). 

Mangrove ecosystems, which require tropical, humid environments, have expanded into temperate areas, and the study concluded that the main contributing factors behind mangrove degradation will “help guide future national assessments and actions to protect and restore these delicate ecosystems,” IUCN reported.

Therefore, the IUCN encourages the maintenance of ecosystem integrity, preservation of existing mangrove forests, and restoration of lost areas will increase mangrove resilience. The IUCN also said that the “maintaining sediment flows, and allowing space for mangroves to expand inland,” will help mangroves cope with sea level rise.

“The Red List of Ecosystems provides clear pathways on how we can reverse mangroves loss and protect these delicate ecosystems for the future, helping in turn to safeguard biodiversity, tackle the effects of climate change and support the realization of the Global Biodiversity Framework,” Angela Andrade, Chair of IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management, said.

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