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Preserve the services of mangroves -- Earth's invaluable coastal forests, experts urge

Experts are urging policy makers to preserve mangroves and their essential services to nature and humanity alike, saying their replacement with shrimp farms and other forms of development is a bad economic tradeoff both short and long-term.

An unprecedented partnership of organizations from forestry and conservation sectors and from across the United Nations have released a policy brief drawing on the 2nd edition of the World Atlas of Mangroves (2010). It aims to provide managers with lessons learned in past mangrove conservation and management efforts, and with policy recommendations.

Found mostly in the tropics straddling the land and sea, mangroves make up less than half of 1% of forests of all kinds worldwide. Taken together, some 70 species of mangroves are found in 123 tropical and sub-tropical nations and territories but occupy just 152,000 square km in total -- an area slightly larger than Nepal.

Yet these so-called "forests of the tide" provide enormous benefits to humanity, especially as essential harbors for biodiversity, as buffers against the destructive power of waves, and as nurseries for coastal and offshore fisheries worldwide.

Since 1980, the world has lost about one-fifth of mangrove forests and many of what remains is degraded, says the new policy brief, "Securing the Future of Mangroves."

Conversion of mangroves for coastal aquaculture is the foremost driver of mangrove loss, the report says. An estimated 38% of global mangrove loss can be attributed to the clearing of mangroves for shrimp culture, while another 14% can be blamed on other forms of aquaculture.

Says lead author Hanneke Van Lavieren of United Nations University: "The benefits of this industry have too often been short lived due to poor planning with ponds being abandoned when pollution or disease take hold, leaving unproductive saline pools and depleted coastal fisheries."

"Such large-scale conversion has had

Contact: Terry Collins
United Nations University

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