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Environmental and Soil Benefits of Mangrove Forest Blue Carbon Sinks

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 3203 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Environmental and Soil Benefits of Mangrove Forest Blue Carbon Sinks: Management, Policy and Climate Change


With modern society’s reliance on climate changing chemicals and greenhouse gasses leading to an increase in sea level, hurricane frequency, and other possible environmental disasters as climate change worsens. Management principles will need to be established to help minimize these probable and possible costly disasters. The reliance on costly technologies and clean up processes have made governments look to natural ecosystem services that are provided by the environment as a cost cutting strategy.  The United Nations conference on climate change or the Paris conference agreements, seek to help limit the emissions of all counties involved. With the cost of cleanup and mitigation a growing interest in mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and coral reefs have increased. All three of these ecosystems provide valuable abiotic and biotic properties that could help to mitigate climate change. These systems provide hurricane storm surge mitigation, erosion control, carbon sequestration, and many more positive benefits. This paper will attempt to look at the various benefits coastal mangrove forest provide to both the developed and developing world in regards to blue carbon and soil erosion controls; and the threats and stressors these systems are under do to anthropogenic impacts that may hamper these fragile systems.

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Tropical ecosystems represent a mosaic of diverse communities, and are susceptible to extreme climatological events, and anthropogenic impacts that can cause extreme damage or death to these communities. Mangroves along with seagrass beds and coral reefs provide a valuable resource to fish and other aquatic life. Mangrove estuary ecosystems are among the most diverse and productive environments on the planet. These forests provide valuable ecosystem services like refuge to juvenile fish and invertebrates, surfaces for epibiont species, and sequester carbon and stabilize coastlines.

The Mangroves represent a large group of plants that have adapted to a very specific niche, brackish intertidal coast zones of tropical and temperate biomes. The specie is highly salt tolerant and adaptable to a wide range of salt concentration zones. These adaptations allow for the trees to live in very hostile habitats that other plant species would die in. 

To survive in these hostile hypersaline environments mangrove species have evolved very specialized traits to avoid hypersaline conditions within their cell structures. The Mangroves maintain their water balance by creating a cellular environment with low water potential minimizing water diffusion to outside sources (Reef and Lovelock 2014). Reef and Lovelock (2014) found that by maintaining dephosphorylation within the root system the mangroves minimize water loss under hyperosmotic conditions present in the soil allowing the tree to survive. The trees have the ability to exclude up to 95% of the salt in the waters around their structure, allowing for the trees to keep their water/carbon intake in balance (Alongi, 2002). This complex combination of interactions create an ecosystem that is highly anoxic, with a great potential to become a carbon sink.

Mangroves Root systems and benefits they provide:

Mangroves are known for their unique root structure which branch out of the ground sediment, acting as anchors. These anchors slow erosion, and preform carbon sink processes, trapping the loose carbon in the anoxic conditions of the sediments with an estimated 174 grams per cubic meter per year.  Mangroves have the ability to survive and grow within the salt-fresh water intertidal zones; however due to this habitat requirement mangroves also face some of the highest mortality rates of any tropical tree species from both anthropogenic and natural events and changes.

Threats to Mangrove Infrastructure:

 Mcleod et al. analyzed the various threats that coastal habitat face, finding that over a third of mangrove, salt marsh and seagrass beds have been lost worldwide (Mcleod et al.  2011). Chef among theses impactors are humans and infastructuire development. These impact of dredging, drainage, and diking to stabilize coastal shoreline for urbanization causes mass die offs to these habitats, like mangrove forests or near shore seagrass beds. These types of destructive activities have slowed in recent years because of the recognition mangroves potential role in climate change, deforestation of mangroves has slowed to .66% a year leading up to 2005 (Mcleod et al. 2010). While both systems can survive by themselves under certain conditions, if a mangrove forest and seagrass bed are in close proximity and the mangroves are destroyed, then the seagrass beds have a very high probability of dying off to happen (Mcleod et al. 2010, Fourqurean et al 2012, Larvey et al. 2013).

Mangrove Forests, a Storm Surge Mitigation Habitat:

Aquatic inshore habitats like mangroves and seagrass beds also face some of the most extreme storm impacts.  These habitats are usually the frontline defense against storm forces: waves and wind. Since these systems will be the first “structures” a hurricane hits, they experience the full force of the hurricane. Mangrove forest and seagrass beds act as bioshields, breaking up the storm surge and winds through making the forces lower than it could have been. With this natural surge mitigation these forest provide, many coastal communities and governments have seen the benefits of having mangroves planted en-mass along their coasts.

Of the mangrove populations, Southeast Asia holds over 41% of the world’s total, of that Bangladesh holds approximately 24.6% of the world wide mangrove population (Carter et al. 2015). Bangladesh holds the largest mangrove population making the coastline a greatly diverse ecosystem, however to the government of Bangladesh this is a secondary objective. The main reason the country has the highest mangrove population of the world is not because of biodiversity but as a form of natural storm control. Since the 1960s the Bangladeshi government has been directly responsible and a primary care giver to the mangrove forests along their coasts in order to create a “greenbelt” to protect and preserve property and communities along their shoreline (Carter et al. 2015). However do the potential income coastal communities can create in terms of touristy and aquaculture these forest have seen a decrease in recent years as the economic benefits outweigh the cost of storm mitigation. 

Located on the island of St. Johns is a national monument named Hurricane Hole; it is a natural land and forest formation which is used extensively for hurricane protection. The natural geology of the land creates a three-sided shield against hurricanes; this compounded with the massive amount of mangrove and seagrass beds within the immediate area create an almost perfect shield against storms events and damaging forces.  The United States government recognized this and established this site as a federal park to protect the natural processes of the location. When a hurricane approaches the island, all boats are directed to this location where they are moored in the coves, protecting the boats. The boats and ships of St. Johns are a major cornerstone of the Caribbean Island’s economy and production. The islands infrastructure may get damaged from the hurricane however the boats suffer minimally, allowing for the fisheries to recovery and help drive the local economies. Allowing for the boat and harbors to restart operations or assist with recovery as soon as possible.               

Figure 1 Hurricane Hole aerial view

Blue Carbon and Aquatic Habitats:

The ocean is the largest ecosystem on the planet, it alone is estimated to contain 3,8000 gigatons of carbon, an order of magnitude larger the next largest source of 4,000 gigatons (Mcleod et al. 2011). With it comes a large number of biological and environmental processes that affect the world, both economically and socially. Coastal habitats are a smaller subset of this ecosystem and is often times highly impacted due to their close proximity to urbanized areas.

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the interaction between the ocean and atmospheric carbon is a complex and globe spanning relationship, almost 85% of the global carbon cycle is processed through the ocean. Coastal habitats account for less then 2% of the entire ocean but when combined, mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs and other habitats can account for approximately 50% of all carbon sequested through the sediment. As climate change plays an increasing role in societies everyday life coastal habitats can start to play an increased roll in mitigation policy and practice. 

With climate change continually impacting the globe and society, new ways to control emissions will be needed. Aquatic habitats such as mangroves, seagrass beds, salt marshes, and coral reefs represent a valuable niche within the carbon sequestration community. These habitats are far more efficient at removing carbon from the atmosphere and water than their terrestrial counterparts. Mangrove and seagrass habitats effectively remove the carbon permanently from the system unlike their terrestrial counterpart which only removes it on a decadal time scale (Fourqurean et al. 2012, Lavery et al. 2013, & Mcleod et al.  2011).

These systems are constantly under threat, from urban development because of the economic incentive of their location. This has potential for a carbon flood. A mangrove blue carbon sink forest could become a carbon release source thus returning all the carbon once thought permanently stored, back into the system. With the tightly couple relationship of mangrove forest and near shore seagrass beds, the destruction of a mangrove forest could have the potential to create two sources of carbon release instead of two sinks.

Mangrove protection and management

Within the United States there are a number of municipal, state and federal laws and statutes are enacted to prevent degradation of coastal zones to presever and hopefully protect these habitats from further harm. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Clean Water Act (CWA) and Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) are a few policies that impact coastal management practices that have a potential to impact mangrove forests on a national scale. The Florida Coastal Management program (FCMP), Mangrove Protection Rule and Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Acts are a few state wide policies. Internationally provided under the Ramsar Convention’s establishment of Wetlands of International Importance (Carter et al. 2015). With the majority of the nation’s mangroves located in the Florida Everglades, these acts play an ever increasing role in Florida policy and development. Under these acts and laws the federal and state government of Florida try to balance development with preservation, as these acts regulate how much and when homeowners can prune mangroves. Within the CWA there is a section pertaining to the estuaries of the country, contained in the National Estuary Program (NEP). NEP addresses mangroves nation wide and more specifically in the southern states. This articleseeks to “identify, restore and protect nationally significant estuaries” and provides funds to states for estuary projects such as shoreline stabilization, invasive removal, and mangrove restoration and protection. With the funding from the NEP and the establishment of FCMP programs, the state is able to manage mangrove forests of the everglades more efficiently and productively.  However even with these polices put into practice a vast number of them contradict each other and lack consistency in implementation which leads to frequent misinterpretation (Carter et al. 2015).  The goals of each of these acts come from different groups with different agendas for the coadstal zones, an environmental group may strive to make the zones more pristine, while a another may promote storm surge mitigation and another something different. With no central authority or goal policy implementation often times will not fully achieve what each policy dictates do to the conflicting viewpoints.

As mentioned about above, the Bangladeshi government has a number of programs seeking to preserve mangrove forestry to protect shoreline communities and properties. However due to the relatively corrupt government style these systems have not been fully implemented as of third parties only wish to make use of the mangrove lands for their own economic ends. As well as a policy to mitigate storm damage also does not take into consideration of diversity, instead it looks to implement the mangroves en-mass as a shield without taking into consideration other variables to help the mangroves survive. Quantity or quality, implementation of mangroves without a consideration of diversity could work in the short term. However, with the tight relationships mangroves share with their sessile communities long term projects would need to look at diversity. 

Australia’s costal management principles  are much more inline with quality over quaintly in relating to mangroves, the country contains one of the highest mangrove diversity levels globally. The Australian government has a much more authoritative and central powered agency in charge of the coastal management policies and practices. They were the first to sign the Ramsar Accords which protect listed habitats from destruction and currently has 65 wetlands listed in the agreement (Carter et al. 2015). These 65 wetlands are protected nationally and internationally with the country promising not to develop within theses sites and to protect the biodiversity of these unique sites. Within the environmental managemental aspect, the country has a small amount of regulations and principle acts which unlike the United States, do not contradict each other. The 1998 Australia’s Ocean Policy Act set forth guidelines and dictated who ultimately is in charge of mangrove and coastal management. This authority has two executive boards: Oceans Board of Management (comprised of governmental officials with marine related interests) and the National Oceans Advisory board (a nongovernmental civilian board) (Carter et al. 2015). These two boards work in tandem and provide a wide view of management and an all-inclusive approach to policy of the country’s coastal management.


Historical Photos (GIS/Remote sensing to be added)

Work cited

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