Mangroves are shrubby, salt-tolerant trees that grow along coastlines within 30 degrees of the equator. Their unique stilt-like root systems provide sanctuaries for fish, shrimp, oysters and crabs, while birds, monkeys, bees and other wildlife that make their home in the roots and branches. The root systems also protect the shoreline from erosion, and the trees themselves act as a buffer against natural disasters, protecting the coastline from intense waves.
However, industrial and aquacultural farming practices, including shrimp farming, and seaside development worldwide has led to an estimated loss of more than half of the world’s mangroves. When the world’s deadliest tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, killing more than 230,000 people, the beaches with intact mangrove forests significantly reduced the loss of life and property, compared to places where mangroves were destroyed by development.
Volunteers planting mangroves on Dayu Island, China. Photo credit: China Mangrove Conservation Network
Since 2006, American Forests has been working to restore mangrove forests in China and Indonesia. Together with the China Mangrove Conservation Network, we are working to build a network of mangrove stewards from local communities, schools and nonprofits. More than 800 volunteers are helping to plant and restore mangroves, and nearly 200 outreach events help spread the message of the importance of mangroves to a larger audience.
The benefits of these efforts stretch far beyond the region. Yearly worldwide carbon emissions are estimated to be 8 billion metric tons. While mangrove forests represent less than 1 percent of the world’s forests, it’s estimated that they have the capability to store 20 billion metric tons of CO2.