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May 15, 2010

Messing with Mangroves

Mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in saline coastal habitats in the tropics and subtropics.  They protect coastal areas from erosion, storm surge (especially during hurricanes), and tsunamis.  Mangrove forests support lichens, orchids, bacteria, and provide nesting sites for birds, and vital nursery and feeding sites fish, crustaceans and other shellfish. 

Florida has an estimated 765 square miles (2000 sq km) of mangrove forests, comprising of three different species: the red, the black and the white mangrove.  During the 20th century large swathes were destroyed as the area was developed, including 44% in Tampa Bay, and 87% of those around Lake Worth.  Even the conservation measures currently adopted in the Everglades National Park are not enough to protect it from water pollution.  Florida's wading birds, which depend on mangroves for their nesting areas, have declined to around 10% of their original level. 

Thailand's mangroves have declined as a result of the timber and charcoal industries, urbanization, agriculture and aquaculture.  In 2004, however, a plan was established to preserve the remaining forests.  The 2004 tsunami underlined to local communities the important role mangroves play in providing protection against surges. 

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