August 6th, 2012 by

By Michelle Werts

Grey mangroves

Grey mangroves. Credit: Brisbane City Council/Flickr

At American Forests, we’ve long recognized the importance of mangrove forests — by doing reforestation work for them and discussing them in our magazine and right here on Loose Leaf — and according to new research, protecting these forests should be seen as an affordable way to offset CO2 emissions.

Mangrove forests, which grow in the tropical waters within 30 degrees of the equator, represent less than one percent of the world’s forests, but have the capability to store approximately 20 billion metric tons of CO2. Considering that world carbon emissions are approximately eight billion metric tons per year, mangroves can be a big factor in the global carbon picture.

According to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “In most areas of the world, we find that preventing a ton of carbon emissions from mangrove deforestation is competitive (less costly) relative to reducing a ton of carbon emissions from currently regulated GHG [greenhouse gas] sources in developed countries. The estimated cost of avoiding emissions from mangrove loss is also below the recent monetized estimates of damage caused by GHG emissions.” Basically, it’s pretty cheap ($10 per ton of CO2 saved) to conserve and protect mangroves compared to many other types of forests that could offset carbon emissions.

And we need to conserve and protect mangrove forests because over the last 50 years, we’ve lost about 50 percent of our mangrove forests. Beyond their large carbon storage capabilities, mangroves are key elements of marine ecosystems, providing protective feeding, breeding and nursing areas for a variety of fish, crustaceans and other aquatic creatures, not to mention wading and sea birds. Plus, they protect our shorelines from destructive waves. So if we protect the mangroves, they’ll help protect us and other creatures. I think that’s a price worth paying.