Floating mangrove, Homebush Bay, Australia.
Floating mangrove, Homebush Bay, Australia. Credit Rodney Campbell

As I viewed this picture of mangrove overtaking an old World War II boat, I was reminded of the beauty of nature and the ecosystem services it provides. Many marvel at this juxtaposition of nature reclaiming what man has made; it gives us a taste of what a post-apocalyptic world would be like. For me, however, the mangroves represent tranquility and remind me of the cleaning power of nature.

Yellow-crowned night-heron in J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Yellow-crowned night-heron in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Credit Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

I have been studying and exploring mangroves for a number of years around Sanibel Island, Fla. I have spent countless hours at Florida’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. I have also explored mangroves while kayaking through Tarpon Bay and while fishing on a boat alongside them. Through my time with the mangroves, I’ve learned that they have a deep importance in the many ways that they serve humans and nature.

One of the first ways mangroves serve humans is by improving water quality and increasing biodiversity in aquatic ecosystems. In many ways, mangroves are the essence of “Water and Biodiversity,” the theme for the United Nation’s designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. Mangroves provide for diversity in many ways:

  • They are nurseries for fish that grow up eating the fallen leaves of the mangroves.
  • The trees provide a home and feeding area for many birds from the yellow-crowned night-heron to the ospreys and bald eagles that feed on mature fish.
  • Many other animals thrive in the mangrove ecosystems, such as crocodiles, alligators, monkeys, bats, hawksbill sea turtles, crabs, starfish and countless others.

Mangroves are also important for local economies, as fishermen depend on these areas for a steady supply of fish, which provide jobs and a commodity that can be sold to local restaurants and sent around the world. Plus, there is ecotourism, which includes bird watchers, boaters, hikers, fishermen and other nature enthusiasts.

Fiddler crab.
Fiddler crab. Credit: malfet_/Flickr

And mangroves, like many other trees, provide countless benefits to human health and safety. In addition to carbon sequestration and oxygen production, they clean the water of pollution due to runoff. They also help reduce flooding and help to cut down on the destruction of storms and hurricanes, which are proving to be more destructive with the rising and warming waters. These trees also provide a beautiful aesthetic benefit: Kayaking under a canopy of mangroves is an unparalleled experience. Mangroves have so much to offer and are an integral part of ecosystems.

Luckily, in Florida, mangrove destruction has decreased, and the species is able to flourish in the 1.5 million acre Everglades National Park — a beautiful place to visit. However, in Asia, this is not the case. With a rising global demand for seafood, many mangrove forests are cut down for fish or shrimp farms. I am honored to be working this summer with an organization that has planted 20,000 mangrove trees in Indonesia and more than 815,000 mangrove trees in China with help from their partner Alcoa Foundation. Mangroves provide many wonderful ecosystem services, economic benefits and esthetic value. People all over the world should be able to share in their beauty and benefits.