Mangroves provide enormously important and economically valuable ecosystem services to coastal communities throughout the tropics. They provide at least US $1.6 billion each year in ecosystem services worldwide, but a startling statistic from a recent study is that eleven of the worlds 70 mangrove species (16%) are at elevated threat of extinction. The IUCN Mangrove Red List Assessment Team have recently published a peer reviewed assessment of the vulnerability to extinction risk to the worlds mangrove species. The teams assessment provides evidence that there are particular areas of geographical concern, such as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Central America, where as many as 40% of mangroves species present are threatened with extinction. In the Indo-Pacific region up to 14% of species are at risk. The article led by Beth Polidoro of the IUCN and published in the open access PLoS One finds that mangroves in the upper inter-tidal and estuarine environment are those species most at risk. This is principally because they are the first to be cleared from activities such as aquaculture and agriculture.
Not all areas show extinction risks, and noticeably only a small area of the Northern Territory in Australia shows any level of mangrove species extinction risk. These risks of extinction although important don’t however show the full problem, as the world is losing mangrove at an unprecedented rate. And this loss is not isolated to developing nations; mangroves are being routinely cleared for developments throughout Australia. This global loss should ring alarm bells. A well cited research article published in Nature in 2003 found that reefs in the Caribbean where mangrove had been removed contained 50% less fish biomass, and many studies have argued the value of mangrove in providing critical coastal protection.
A glimmer of hope comes from the passions of communities willing to get involved and support their own natural habitats. In the Burnett-Mary region of Queensland, communities are developing a ‘Mangrove-watch’ scheme to monitor their own mangroves and help protect the important ecosystem values of these habitats.