Mangrove forests cover hundreds of miles of Mesoamerican reef coastline in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Mangrove trees and shrubs grow in saline lagoons that connect saltwater to freshwater, and these coastal forests are considered some of the most productive and biologically complex ecosystems on the planet. They protect organisms, including algae, sea sponges, mangrove crabs, and shrimp who make their home in the intricate root mesh. Mangroves also function as a living nursery for various coral reef fish and the upper branches of mangrove trees are the preferred nesting spot for many coastal birds. Mangrove swamps also protect coastal areas from erosion and the storm surges often associated with severe storms and hurricanes.
WWF is working to protect mangrove ecosystems and habitats. We help build awareness of the socio-economic and ecological benefits of mangroves and work collaboratively with government agencies, civil society groups, and communities to prioritize mangrove conservation in coastal development. WWF is also working closely with the private sector, on mangrove-friendly development and the establishment of private reserves.
Rising sea levels caused by climate change alter sediment levels in tidal zones killing mangrove forests that require stable sea levels for long-term survival. Mangroves may be able to prograde (move inland) with rising sea level but only where coastal developments do not block their natural inland progression.
Mangrove forests are often cleared for new resort and hotel construction, urban and infrastructure expansion, and to create open beaches for tourists. Pollutants that accompany development can also damage whole swaths of mangrove forests.
Increased demand for shrimp has prompted a boom in shrimp farm development along the Belize coast and the Pacific coasts of Guatemala and Honduras. Some shrimp farms dig channels to supply the ponds with the enormous quantity of water needed, diverting the natural flow of water that maintains the health of surrounding mangroves. When effluents are not treated properly, fertilizers and chemicals can run off of farms and pollute the freshwater that feeds mangrove stands.
Aside from farm pollutants, other toxic man-made chemicals carried by river systems from sources upstream, such as improperly treated sewage, can disrupt the mangrove ecosystem, and oil pollution in particular smothers mangrove roots and suffocates the trees.
If you live in coastal zones where mangroves are present, you can:
• KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN for any illegal clearings and report it to the authorities!
• Participate in local mangrove restoration programs.
If you are visiting, be a responsible tourist and support resorts where mangroves are still intact.