Mangroves are small shrubs or trees that grow in coastal saline or brackish water. They occur worldwide in the tropical as well as sub-tropical areas, largely between latitudes 25 degrees North and 25 degrees South. They are also termed as halophytes as they are salt-tolerant trees and are adapted to live in harsh coastal conditions.
Mangrove forests occupy around 2,00,000 square kilometers across the globe covering 30 countries. In India, mangrove forests cover an area of 4,482 square kilometers. They are basically an interface between land and the sea in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
Mangroves are intermediate vegetation between land and sea that grow in oxygen-deficient soils that contain Hydrogen Sulphide. They perform significant ecological practices like nutrient cycling, hydrological regime, coastal protection, fish-fauna production, etc. Their dense roots help in the prevention of soil erosion as well. They bind the soil underneath and their roots that are above the ground slow down the water flow and encourage sediment deposits that reduce soil erosion. Mangroves also act as shock absorbers. They act as a buffer or shock absorber in times of such disasters.
An important function that Mangroves perform is that they capture a huge amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, traps and stores them in their carbon-rich flooded soils. This is an extensive ecosystem service as we face climate change. This buried carbon is called “blue carbon” as it is stored underwater in coastal ecosystems like mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and salt marshes.
Mangrove forests also provide habitat to a wide number of animals and birds. Branches of the mangroves act as nesting areas for coastal wading birds like egrets, herons. Endangered species such as the smalltooth sawfish, hawksbill sea turtle, Key Deer, and the Floride panther rely on this habitat during some stage of their life cycle.
Mangroves also provide nature experiences for people such as fishing, snorkeling, and the kind of relaxation that comes from these kinds of activities is overwhelming. It also provides economic benefits to the communities involved in these activities. Consequently, mangrove forests play a major role with more valuable ecological services, scientific management of the same is the need of the hour not only for the wellbeing of mankind but also for the coastal biodiversity.