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Sandra Rodriguez

"World Atlas of Mangroves" Highlights the Importance of and Threats to Mangroves

Mangroves among world’s most valuable ecosystems

LONDON — July 14, 2010 —The first global assessment of mangroves in over a decade reveals that rare and critically important mangrove forests continue to be lost at a rate three to four times higher than land-based global forests, despite positive restoration efforts by some countries.

An unprecedented partnership of organizations – from forestry and conservation sectors and from across the United Nations – has released a new and comprehensive atlas and account of the world’s mangrove forests. Globally, mangrove forests are rare, covering just 150,000 square kilometers. They are also disappearing faster than any other forest type on earth.

About one fifth of all mangroves are thought to have been lost since 1980. The authors of the World Mangrove Atlas warn that any further destruction due to unsustainable shrimp farming and coastal development will cause significant economic and ecological decline.

“Mangrove forests are the ultimate illustration of why humans need nature,” says Dr. Mark Spalding, lead author of the World Atlas of Mangroves and senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy. “The book details the extraordinary synergies between people and forests. Mangroves provide hard, rot-resistant timber and make some of the best charcoal in the world. The waters all around foster some of the greatest productivity of fish and shellfish in any coastal waters. These forests also help prevent erosion and mitigate natural hazards; these are natural coastal defenses whose importance will only grow as sea level rise becomes a reality around the world.”

Various studies have converted the benefits of mangroves into dollar values, with some estimating that these forests generate $2,000-9,000 per hectare per year. But mangroves face a number of threats worldwide, from oil spills to shrimp aquaculture, allowing for fast profits but leaving long-term debts and poverty.

“The Nature Conservancy is an organization with its feet firmly on the ground in 30 countries,” states Mark Tercek, CEO of the Conservancy. “Already we have teams working to protect and restore mangroves from Florida to Indonesia, Palau to Grenada. This book raises the stakes and engenders urgency, but it also offers hope. These are robust and resilient ecosystems. Get things right for them and the payback will be immense: security for rich biodiversity and a lifeline to many of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

The World Atlas of Mangroves is published by Earthscan as an output of a joint project implemented in 2005 by the International Tropical Timber Organization, the International Society of Mangrove Ecosystems, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, UNESCO-Man and Biosphere, UNU-Institute for Water Environment and Health and The Nature Conservancy. The Atlas project received majority funding from ITTO through a Japanese Government grant. More than 100 top international mangrove researchers and organizations have provided data, reviews and other input.

“This book should change the way we view, and manage, mangroves for the benefit of coastal peoples and biodiversity world-wide,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “In fact, the solutions are obvious and there are examples of success from all around the world. Some 1,200 protected areas now safeguard about one-quarter of all remaining mangroves. Furthermore, some countries, which have suffered extensive losses and subsequent hardships, have learned about the benefits of mangrove and already begun large-scale restoration projects.”

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at