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Degradation of Mangrove Forests Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 21st, 2020

Introduction

Mangroves grow in humid tropical areas that are sheltered from the wave and tidal activities of the ocean. Human activities have led to a rapid disappearance of large portions of Mangrove forests globally. Initially, mangrove forests were estimated to have covered over 18.1 million hectares of land. However, the coverage has reduced to below 15 million hectares. This disappearance is due to human activities including oil exploration, building, and construction of tourist facilities and exploitation of the forests for firewood.

These activities have led to the degradation of the vegetation in the territories where they occur. Duke et al (2007, p. 41) estimates that nearly 90% of all mangrove forests occur in developing countries where the above activities have peaked on the backdrop of growing economies and populations. Their fragmentation and lack of clear policies on managing the mangrove lands have exacerbated the degradation of mangrove vegetation to an extent that it’s estimated they will disappear in less than 100 years.

Both human and natural environmental factors have contributed to the degradation of mangroves globally which is estimated at an average of one million hectares every year. Degradation however mainly takes place through human activities that are intentional and purposeful ignorance of the consequences of the loss. As a result, there have been declining fishery resources, and biodiversity (Alvarez‐Leon, 2001, p. 67).

Current global campaigns on the environment have however cast the spotlight back to the degraded mangroves. The initiatives led by environmentalists have come up with initiatives to roll back the degradation caused by mangroves. The initiatives have as well focused on checking the activities that have in the first place caused the degradation. The overall goal of the management of degraded mangroves is to halt the destruction and through controlling and regulating human activities that cause mangrove destruction.

Description of the environmental degradation ‘problem

The research will focus on the degradation of mangroves and the management of mangroves in the world. The alarming rate at which mangroves are disappearing is a cause for alarm. Many countries including Cuba, the US, Thailand, Malaysia, and regions like East Africa have lost significant portions of their mangroves. This research will especially emphasize the lukewarm approach from most authorities or the absolute lack of it from others. There is sufficient evidence indicating that the degradation and destruction of mangroves has unrecognized as a major environmental problem for many years. The effects of the losses include the decline of fishery resources in the areas badly affected.

The presence of the forests has always supported the natural fishery habitats along the tropical coastlines. Their absence has therefore led to a decline in the marine life which includes fisheries due to the imbalance created by the destroyed habitats. Furthermore, the loss of fishery resources has impacted negatively on the livelihoods of the surrounding human communities. Additionally, there have been significant losses on biodiversity that has negatively upset the ecosystems of the mangrove areas. Some research has also linked the loss of marine mammals like Manatees to among other causes loss of mangroves (Mastaller 1996, p. 37). There are also the general effects on the environment like desertification that are brought by the loss of vegetation regardless of the type.

According to (Kathiresan 2000, p. 185), the environmental problems brought by the loss of mangroves are likely to continue and get worse with time if nothing is done. This is most probable considering human populations are still expanding and encroaching on the existing mangrove lands.

This research will, therefore, explore how rehabilitation and management of places and regions where loss of mangroves has led to serious environmental setbacks. The research will look at all the possible ways that the problem can be addressed including the launching of mangrove agroforestry and other agriculture projects. This is meant to encourage the reestablishment of mangrove vegetation or vegetation of any nature that will roll back the adverse effects.

This research will be necessary especially considering the fact conservation efforts that are in place lag far behind the destruction. It will also explore the need to introduce sustainable and management and harvesting of mangroves among the stakeholders. The research will be on a worldwide context and will also include suggestions on ways of improving the general health and wellbeing of mangroves which has severely declined due to the direct and indirect human activities. The importance and rationale of this study, therefore, rests on the need to develop the best remedial approaches and fro the regeneration as well as monitoring and evaluation of the recovery process.

Literature Review

The research will analyze various existing literature on the mangrove degradation. The literature review will form the bulk of secondary data and will provide insight into the trends that exist in the management of degraded mangroves.

Mangrove degradation is not neither a new phenomenon nor is it old. The destruction of mangroves has taken the proportions that characterize the destruction of tropical rainforests (Lacerda 2001, 292). Initially, mangrove lands were regarded as wastelands with little value. However, since human beings discovered that they can use them as fish ponds for growing fish, salt beds, rise fields, building and construction, and human settlement, they have been cleared faster than they regenerate (Finlayson et al 2002, p. 67).

Wide research has been carried out in this area that puts into context the problem of mangrove degradation.

According to the World Conservation Union which is also the Asian Regional Coordinator on wetlands, there has been an uncontrolled, unmanaged and unsustainable exploitation of mangrove formations world over. According to Hussein, the development of aquaculture, pollution, and sedimentation mainly due to oil and gas exploitation and exploration activities and the overuse of forestry and fisheries resources present the biggest threats to the survival of the mangrove forests and vegetation (Alvarez‐Leon 2001, p. 269).

The above activities have led to the loss of the mangroves at a rate that is unprecedented. For instance, the Philippines lost over 3000km2 of mangroves within two decades. This loss meant the country lost over 70% of the mangrove vegetation over that period. When put into context, the loss was equivalent to the disappearance of an average of 39 hectares of mangrove per day. Thailand as well lost over 1900km2 of mangroves over the same period representing an average loss of 18 hectares of mangrove per day. Globally the loss is estimated to total 7 million hectares of mangroves every year (Uthoff, 1996, p. 59).

A joint study by the Food and Agricultural Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program estimates that the total acreage for mangroves has drastically fallen below 15 million hectares. This is from a peak of over 20 million two decades ago (FAO, 2001, p.23). According to the report, the loss of mangroves has slightly slowed down from the rate it was in the 1990s. However, the accuracy of the conclusion can be put to the test considering not all countries participated in the study and the organization ignored other countries with “small and insignificant” portions of mangrove.

A survey by (Mastaller, 1996, p. 49) points out that every country with mangroves has experienced loss of the vegetation in large proportions and expresses doubt of a full recovery happening even if the comprehensive measures were put in place. South India has lost the most mangroves with a current cover of only 4% followed by Puerto Rico at 11%. Singapore and Philippines represent the bottom four in terms of losses with only 26% and 31 % mangrove coverage respectively (Duke et al 2007, p. 43).

Knowledge (or other) gaps that are contributing to the problem

This research will also focus on the knowledge gaps and/ or the causes that have been advanced by experts areas leading in mangrove degradation.

Some gaping knowledge gaps are the forces behind the continued destruction of mangroves. These gaps also make up the causes that contribute to the degradation of the mangroves. Lack of organized and sustainable harvesting of the mangroves is one of the knowledge gaps that have led to the decline of mangroves. There is a need for better management of the conversion of mangrove land to settlement lands. Additionally, there is a lack of informed approaches in the commercial exploitations of mangroves (Mastaller, 1996, p. 51). These lands have been targeted for the construction of industries, roads, and ports. An informed approach will ensure a regulated economic exploitation takes place in a way that ensures the vegetation does not become extinct.

Many of the stakeholders with interest in mangroves land lack the visionary approach of considering long-term interests. For instance, the mangrove lands can be used in the growing of fish and prawns whose commercial value is higher than activities such as clearing the forests for firewood or peasant farming but the short term. The availability of such knowledge will no doubt help in conserving the mangroves (Lacerda 2001, 295).

There is a serious lack of interest from many governments as far as saving the mangroves is concerned. According to Uthoff, most mangroves’ lands in the world have been neglected by authorities and there are no concrete policies on better management that are aimed at saving them (Uthoff, 1996, p. 60). Additionally, there have been allegations of vague policies in situations where they are crafted concerning mangroves. They are either too complicated or simply inadequate to protect the mangrove vegetation (Finlayson et al 2002, p. 70).

This has, in turn, led to their uncontrolled exploitation resulting in depletion. In cases where there are degradation management techniques like reforestation, the techniques have been criticized as inadequate and insufficient. There is little understanding among the leaders of the reforestation techniques in the countries where such initiatives have been implemented (Kathiresan 2000, p. 187). Furthermore, there has been little effort if any towards adopting new techniques in managing mangrove forests.

In some situations, the forestry departments are ill-equipped to deal with the problem of mangrove degradation. The authorities have utterly failed to allocate sufficient resources for the better management of mangroves (Macintosh et al 2002, 331).

There is blatant ignorance on the effects of pollution and corporates and individuals involved. For instance, there was the blatant use of herbicides by the US military in the Vietminh war which led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of mangrove. Uninformed choices in coastal development in many countries have exposed many mangroves to destruction through pollution by oil, solid and liquid waste and chemicals from industries (Duke et al 2007, p. 41).

There is rampant dumping of effluent water from factories into mangroves and rivers that surround them. Additionally, the agricultural areas that surround mangroves some of which have been converted from mangrove land are responsible for pesticides runoff to the mangroves. This has, in turn, led to the accumulation of heavy metals in the mangroves effectively increasing degradation stress on them (Alvarez‐Leon, 2001, p. 74). There are weak laws from authorities aimed at curbing pollution from oil that mainly come from shipyards, oil tanker accidents, and the cleaning of tanks onshore.

The issues identified above form the very basic knowledge gaps that lead to major degradation of mangroves. The research will, therefore, aim at obtaining detailed information that will be used on making recommendations to the authorities and other stakeholders on the most effective ways to address them.

Research questions

The research will be guided by the following questions:

  1. How prevalent is the problem of mangrove degradation?
  2. Which are the most affected areas and/or countries?
  3. What can be done to alleviate the situation?
  4. How is the problem of mangrove degradation managed in the affected areas?
  5. What are some of the recommendations to the authorities in the affected areas?

Methodology

This research will use both primary and secondary data. There will be an analysis of already existing literature on the management of degraded mangroves. Additionally, the researcher will conduct interviews on the managers of the forestry department to get their views on the degradation and the management issues that are associated with it. Furthermore, questionnaires will be used in cases where it will be appropriate.

The research will make use of semi-structured interviews with managers, mangrove management consultants and private environmental activists who advocate for mangrove conservation. The interviews were will be chosen because many managers in such organizations don’t prefer filling questionnaires. Additionally, interviews are less structured than questionnaires effectively allowing the researcher to carry out an in-depth probe to obtain all the necessary information. It’s easier to use the information from interviews because it’s elaborated hence helpful in the formulation of hypotheses. The information will also be useful in forming a base for future research.

The interview will be collected and analyzed in ways consistent with international research practices. The interviews will be structured around environmental questions and issues discussed in the literature review and research questions. It’s important to note that the interviews will be conducted consistently with replication logic to compare them and build the research on a different model.

Questionnaires will be administered on the willing managers and stakeholders in the mangrove protection initiatives. Knowledgeable and willing residents around mangrove areas will also be administered with questionnaires to maximize the collection of the information.

References

Alvarez‐Leon, R. (2001) Las Tortugas marinas de Colombia: estado actual de su conocimiento. Rev. Acad. Columbi. Cienc., 25(95): 269‐286.

Duke, N.C et al. (2007) A world without mangroves? Letters. Web.

Kathiresan, K. (2000) A review of Studies on Pichavaram mangrove, southeast India. Hydrobiologia, 430 : 185‐205.

FAO. (2001) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000: Main report. FAO Forestry Paper 140. Rome. Web.

Finlayson, C. M et al. (2002) A Manual for an inventory of Asian Wetlands. 73 pp.

Lacerda, L.D. (2001) Mangrove Ecosystems Function and Management. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Mastaller, M. (1996) Destruction of mangrove wetlands‐causes and consequences. Natural Resources and Development, 43(44) : 37‐57.

Macintosh, D.J et al. (2002) Mangrove rehabilitation and intertidal biodiversity: study of the Ranong mangrove ecosystem, Thailand. Estuarine and Coastal Shelf Science 55: 331-345.

Uthoff, D. (l996) From Traditional use to total destruction‐Forms and extent of economic utilization in the Southeast Asian mangroves. Natural Resources and Development, 43/44 : 59‐94.

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