Mangrove forests are one of the most productive and bio-diverse wetland environments on Earth.
They are unique coastal ecosystems which provide various vital ecological functions and environmental services. They also support important socio-economic needs.
The mangroves have specially adapted aerial and salt-filtering roots, as well as salt-excreting leaves that enable them to occupy the saline wetlands, where other plant life usually cannot survive.
Besides creating a beautiful landscape, the mangroves provide to the Earth in many ways.
One important use of mangroves is that it acts as natural coastal protection.
Because of their unique location between land and sea, mangroves act as frontiers that protect the coastal land against destruction from ocean waves, tsunamis and storms.
In fact, during the 2004 Tsunami, many coastal communities survived mainly due to coastal protection that was provided by mangroves.
Another reason that the mangroves serve as important coastal protection is because their unique root system traps soil and facilitates the creation of deltas.
They also serve as the habitat and shelter of many species of flora and fauna that are unique to a mangrove ecosystem.
Mangroves can store up to four times more carbon (CO2) as compared to other tropical forests around the world. This greatly reduces the impacts of greenhouse effects.
That’s why mangroves are also recognised as a nature-based solution to mitigate climate change.
Despite all this, these unique coastal tropical forest environments are among the most threatened habitats in the world.
Malaysia is one of the countries in south east asia that has among the largest extents of mangroves.
But over the last 2 decades, we have lost almost 20% of the original mangrove forest area that once existed here.
The declines are caused mainly by human activities such as aquaculture expansion, coastal development, and over-harvesting.
These activities can cause degradation of the mangroves, which will then start to release carbon into the atmosphere instead of storing it.
The loss of mangroves in Malaysia could lead to a substantial amount of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere.
It is important to conserve the mangrove ecosystems, because they provide fisheries and forest resources, absorb carbon to mitigate climate change, protect coastal communities from wind and waves, and filter water before it reaches the sea/oceans.
A systematic protection strategy using ecological engineering, active restoration, and rehabilitation measurements, are still urgently needed in order to preserve these valuable resources in Malaysia.