The Implications of Global Loss of Mangrove Ecosystems? Cause and Effect Essay

Introduction

Mangroves are woody plants that thrive in shallow seawater in coastlines and estuaries. The plants are salt tolerant and only within the last decade did scientists acknowledge their significance towards the marine environment. For instance, a Florida survey in the 1970s referred to the mangroves as “…freaks of nature… and a form of wasteland…” (Anon 2011 p. 1).

The mangroves have been in danger from human destruction and their global distributions have been on the decline. During the past fifty years, mangrove distributions have been on the decline across the globe (Valiela, Bowen and York 2001). Experts predict that by 2025 mangrove distributions will be lost by twenty-five percent in the developing countries.

The paradox of mangrove loss is that the mangrove ecosystems provide human beings and other species with many benefits yet the ecosystems continue to experience destruction year in year out. Human activities account and will continue to account for the largest reasons for mangrove loss in the world. In addition, climate change will also contribute to the loss of mangrove distribution.

The essay paper is organized into four sections. The first section is the introduction and the causes of mangrove ecosystems loss in the world. The second section looks at the mangrove ecosystem benefits, the third section looks at the consequences of mangrove ecosystem losses, and the final part looks at the reaction to mangrove ecosystem conversion. The implications of the loss of the mangrove ecosystem such as food insecurity, loss of human life are discussed. The loss of mangroves has dire global implications.

Disappearance of Mangrove ecosystems in the world

The Mangrove ecosystems in the world are declining even though the rate has been on the decline lately. The coastal wetlands are disappearing due to anthropogenic reasons and the climate change and natural disasters. The statistics on mangrove losses are not conclusive but the available data shows that close to thirty-five percent of the mangrove forests have disappeared.

The annual lose of the mangrove forests is estimated at 2.1 per cent annually and the highest lose is reported in the Americas at 3.6 per cent annually as shown in Table 1. The mangrove forests are the most threatened habitats in the world (Valiela et al. 2001).

Table 1: Current mangrove swamp areas, per cent loss, annual loss rate, and percent of original area lost per year, for the mangroves of the continents and the world.

Current mangrove area (Km2) % loss of mangrove forest area Annual rate of loss (Km2y-1) % of original area lost per year
Asia 77, 169 36 628 1.52
Africa 36, 529 32 274 1.25
Australasia 10, 287 14 231 1.99
Americas 43, 161 38 2,251 3.62
World 166,876 35 2, 834 2.07

Source: Valiela et al. 2001.

Causes of mangrove distributions decline

Communities from all over the world have had a negative perception towards the mangroves. They have undervalued the mangroves and seen them as useless plants that take up land that they would otherwise use for agricultural activities. The perception of the people towards the mangroves is caused by lack of knowledge about the usefulness of the plants (Upadhyay, Mishra and Sahu, 2008 ).

The only communities that knew about the significance of the mangroves were the scientific communities that had not shared the knowledge with the wider society hence the negative attitude towards the mangroves. Moreover, many governments had also been ignorant as the rest of the communities and thus did not protect the mangroves from destruction earlier on, as they should have done.

Mangrove ecosystems are not easy to protect because they are a shared resource. However, recently there has been a change of the negative perception of the mangroves by the people and governments as they have learnt about the usefulness of the mangroves. The change in the perception has led to a decline in the loss rate of the mangroves since 2000.

The proof of the change in the perception is the mangrove conservation projects that have come up across the globe. Furthermore, legislation regarding the protection of the mangroves has also been enacted in many areas. However, in spite of the change in perception mangrove ecosystems are still at risk of extinction (Valiela et al 2009).

Population increase

Population increase is the other cause of the declining mangrove distributions. It is estimated that about thirty-five percent of the mangrove forests are lost through deforestation by humans since 1980. The loss of the mangrove forests has been due to the increase of people living at the coastal areas. The pressure of high population density causes destruction of mangroves for human settlement.

Moreover, due the increase in human population more mangroves are lost as large portions of mangrove forests are cleared to create agricultural land so that people can grow food for consumption. Tracts of land are cleared to grow crops such as rice or for other economic activities such as salt production (FAO 2007). Once land is reclaimed for agricultural use, rainwater is used to reduce the salt content and embankments created to prevent seawater from accessing the reclaimed land.

Due to population increment, more land is required for urbanization as well as industrialization hence tracts of mangroves are destroyed. Urbanization has also contributed to the loss of mangrove forests in place of urban areas. Mumbai is an urban area that shows how destructive urbanization can be to the mangroves as all its islands were once mangrove ecosystems. Other urban areas created from the destruction of mangroves include, Jakarta, Lagos, Bangkok, Doula and Singapore among others (kathiresan n.d.).

Human beings also destroy the mangroves for firewood and charcoal and timber. Large tracts of mangroves are cleared to provide fuel for the people living around the coastlines and as the wood is very rich in calorific vales hence forms very good source of firewood.

Paper millers and chipboard makers prefer to use mangrove trees in manufacturing their products as the tree gives out quality products. Thus, many paper-milling factories have been opened around the mangrove ecosystems. For example in Indonesia, many such paper companies have contributed to destruction of about 1, 37, 000 ha of mangrove area in a period of two years (kathiresan n.d.).

Oil spillage

Oil pollution is another human factor that contributes to the loss of mangroves in the world. Through gas and oil explorations, mangroves are cleared to create space for the production such in Nigeria where many oil wells are located in areas that were once mangrove forests. Oil spillage in the sea through accidents also devastates mangrove forests.

The oil covers the mangroves trees and causes them to die, as they cannot carry out photosynthesis. Furthermore, the other species living in the ecosystems also die. It is difficult to recover from the destruction caused from oil spillage as it takes a minimum of ten years to grow back the mangroves although full recovery cannot be attained.

Mangroves also destroyed through pollution. The industrial companies near the coastline dump their wastes into the mangrove ecosystems. For instance, mangroves in Panama have been affected negatively by pollution (Duke, Pinzon and Prada 1997).

Wars

Other human activities such as wars lead to destruction of mangroves significantly. The Vietnam War between 1962 and 1971 is a good example of how wars lead to mangrove destruction. Many litres of chemicals destroyed large tracts of the mangrove ecosystem during the Vietnam War (Ross 1974).

Tourism

Tourism activities also lead to the loss of mangrove distributions across the world. Tourism is a great earner of foreign exchange for many countries and thus tourism development is vital in order to attract more visitors.

Tourism development especially in Africa leads to the loss of the mangroves as land is cleared to build infrastructure such as beach resorts, hotels. Mangroves also cleared to create boat ways for the tourists. Tourism is a major economic activity but it also contributes greatly to the loss of mangroves (Valiela et al. 2009).

Aquaculture

Aquaculture contributes greatly towards the loss of mangroves worldwide. Shrimp aquaculture since the 1980s rose and hence more land was required to build ponds to grow the shrimps. The ponds created for shrimp rearing also leads to pollution of the surrounding areas.

The aquaculture has led to dramatic loss of mangroves for instance in Asia about fifty to eighty percent of the mangroves have been lost to aquaculture. Other regions greatly affected by aquaculture are Latin America and the Caribbean (Upadhyay, Mishra and Sahu, 2008).

Climate change

Climate change in addition to human activities is a major future long-term threat of the mangroves. The change in the climate poses various threats to the mangrove distributions. The change in climate leads to sea level rise, which is the major change that poses a major threat to the mangroves. The rising sea level leads to increased water levels that decreases the land available for human beings hence they clear mangrove forests in such of land.

The success of mangroves depends on adequate sediment accretion that can counter the rising water hence the rise in sea levels is the greatest threat to the survival of mangroves as at one point they may not cope with the rising water levels hence they may die back. The other threat of climate change is atmospheric and ocean warming. The rise of temperatures leads to the expansion of mangroves in the poles.

Precipitation is a form of climate change because when it reduces the mangroves do not grow properly and their overall survival is threatened. The precipitation changes also leads to a change in the composition of the mangroves. Extreme reduction in precipitation can also lead to extermination of the mangroves (Valiela and York, 2001).

Diseases

Diseases cause devastating loss of mangroves. One of the diseases has led to the damage of about 45 million Huritiers fomes species of the mangrove trees. The disease destroyed about twenty percent of mangrove forests in Bangladesh (Hussain and Acharya 1994). Mangrove diseases are caused by salinity, which occurs when the flow of water to the mangroves is reduced.

Sedimentation also causes diseases to the mangroves. Parasites and pests affect mangrove ecosystems. For example, certain caterpillars may eat the mangrove fruits. The caterpillars hinder the mangrove seeds from germinating. The mangrove species affected by the caterpillars is the Rhizophora.

Animals such as sheep, camels, and buffaloes affect the mangroves when they graze in the mangrove ecosystems. Other organisms such as the crabs feed on the leaves of the young mangrove plants hence destroy the mangrove ecosystems.

Benefits of mangroves

Mangroves are very important to the community because they help in biodiversity, economic activities because they are productive ecosystems and coastal protection. The mangroves act as coastline protection. The mangrove trees protect the coastlines against hurricane and storms hence save lives.

Mangroves have other benefits such as soil formation, habitat for marine life and filters of upland runoff. The mangrove trees stores up the sun energy and nutrients carried by silt in their leaves. The mangroves shed their leaves and grow new ones continually throughout the year. The falling leaves forms a foundation for food chain for the surrounding terrestrial and marine life.

Due to the huge constant foods, supply by the mangroves, many commercial and fishes thrive very well in the mangroves ecosystems. In addition, about $ 1.6 billion is generated from the mangrove ecosystems globally (Upadhyay, Mishra and Sahu, 2008).

Implications of global loss of mangrove ecosystems

The loss of mangrove ecosystems has negative effects and communities yet the communities continue engaging in activities that threaten the mangroves. The continued destruction of mangroves occurs because the communities are more concerned about their current economical survival and even though they may know about the future dangers of their activities in the mangrove ecosystems they have no choice but to think of today. The mangrove ecosystems have an estimated economic value of $ 1.6 billion per year worldwide (Upadhyay, Mishra and Sahu, 2008).

Loss of fisheries

One of the implications of mangrove ecosystems loss is the loss of fisheries. Mangroves ecosystems provide nurseries and breeding habitats for fish and other species. The community depends on the marine life such as fish, which they sell and make a living. Thus, the destruction of the mangroves affects lives of the people who depend on the economic activities that are related to the mangroves such as loss of fish.

The decline in the numbers of fish and prawns has had a negative impact in El Salvador (Daugherty 1975). Other fisheries in Venezuela also reported a decline in fisheries related to the mangroves in spite of the efforts put in increasing the fishing sector since the 1980s. Thus, loss of mangrove ecosystems leads to a decline in the fishing sector and loss of income.

Climate change

The loss of mangrove ecosystems leads to changes in the climate. The change in the climate is severe and affects even the shrimp aquaculture that is responsible for the destruction of large tracts of mangrove forests for conversion to shrimp ponds such as in Bangladesh where the total mangrove forest today is less than half of its original size about two decades ago.

Shrimp growing is very uneconomical because it requires farmers to utilize extensive operations that hurt the mangrove ecosystems further. The farmers result to methods that are unethical as they aim to make a profit at the expense of climate. The shrimp ponds put environmental pressures on the land beyond the farms.

According to studies, one hectare of shrimp pond which produces an estimate of four thousand kilos of shrimp annually “requires the productive and assimilative capacity of between 38 and 289 hectares of natural ecosystem per year” (Islam and Wahab 2005 p. 175). The fore mentioned shrimp farming is semi-intensive that means intensive shrimp farming requires even greater land.

Furthermore, shrimp farming relies on shrimp fry. The shrimp fry is fed to the shrimps. The impact of the shrimp fry is felt because many people along the coastline who do not have another source of income engage in shrimp fry catching and during the process, they catch fish and shrimps, which are destroyed in the process before catching the required shrimp fry.

The exploitation of the marine ecosystem for the shrimp fry leads to a decline in the number of shrimps harvested every year. The decline in shrimp has to be recovered hence more dangerous methods are employed that pose a threat to commercial fishers and artisanal. Moreover, the shrimps grown in semi-intensive methods require to be fed on fishmeal-based pelleted feeds.

The feeds puts more pressure on fishing as people look for the fishmeal feeds all over the world as more fishing and shrimp growing area becomes necessary putting more mangroves at risk of destruction. The pressure further leads to a decline in the coastlines. The pressure in the fishing areas occurs because only a small portion of the total catch constitutes the required tiger shrimp.

Hence, other species die in the process of catching the tiger shrimps. A report shows that about 12 to 551 post larvae of other shrimp species and 5 to 152 macrozooplankton finfish larvae are lost during the catching of one tiger shrimp (Hoq et al. 2001). In other words, the people involved in catching the tiger shrimp only have a success rate of one percent and a failure rate of ninety nine percent.

The report urges that a hundred thousand tiger shrimp collectors contributed to a loss of an estimate of one hundred and eighty thousand other aquatic species (Kamal 2000). Thus, the shrimp fry fishing posed a threat not only to the other fish species, but also to the other aquatic organisms through reduction of their food for instance, the reptiles and birds.

Destruction of marine species

Harvesting of shrimps leads to destruction of marine species. Reports say that the shrimp trawlers represent wastefulness in fishing. The shrimps caught by the trawlers represent less than two percent of the global seafood yet during their catch about a third of fish are wasted as by catch. The shrimp anglers have to destroy fourteen pounds of fish plus other organisms to get a pound of the prized shrimp.

Turtles are the biggest casualties of the shrimp trawlers that kill them more than any other human activity (Rodriguez 2001). The shrimps need to be fed continually to grow and their food is thrown into the ponds. They also require to be sprayed with antibiotics, chemicals to prevent diseases. The ponds are washed using detergents and all the things added to the ponds contaminate them and must be removed.

However, it is difficult to remove all the accumulated wastes from the ponds and the wastes spread to the adjacent marine ecosystem and leads to their degradation. The adjacent ecosystems are degraded and the species that inhabit them put at risk as the degradation is irreversible (Anon 2001). Thus, the destruction of the mangrove ecosystems have short term benefits to the commercial companies that grow shrimps but long term disadvantages to the communities and the entire countries’ economies.

Destruction of biodiversity

Besides, shrimp farming leads to a negative effect on the biodiversity. Mangrove ecosystems create unique biodiversities that are very productive. The biodiversities acts as a habitat for various species such as birds, marine creatures and flora. The mangroves’ aerial roots harbour a host of creatures and acts as breeding and refuge for many species such as crustaceans and fish.

Some of the species that breed and thrive in the mangrove ecosystems are a source of food for the communities living around the coastlines as well for economic activities. Birds such as the kingfishers, herons and eagles find their food in the mangroves. The mangroves hence benefit both animals and human beings who live in their surroundings.

Once the biodiversities are destroyed, they cannot be reclaimed and the community that depends on them suffers in the process. The communities living near the mangrove ecosystems feel the implications of destruction of mangrove ecosystems firsthand, as they no longer have a source of livelihood once the mangroves disappear under the hands of commercial growers of shrimps.

The communities come together and try to stop the invasion of the mangroves as their lives are affected greatly by the destruction as the artisan fisheries loss their way of life. In the fight for the mangroves, some members of the community have lost their precious lives in regions such as Mexico, and Honduras (Rodriguez 2001). The communities also lose their source of firewood and building materials (Anon 2001).

In addition, countries also lose because the benefit from the mangrove ecosystems (Rodriguez 2001). The shrimp ponds that lead to destruction of thousands of mangrove hectares are consequently abandoned once their usefulness has been exploited.

The people leave behind an impoverished mangrove ecosystem and communities (Anon 2001). The loss of mangrove ecosystems affects the whole society as all economic activities supported by the mangroves are lost by the destruction of the mangrove forests for other activities.

Change in coastline

Destroying the mangroves contributes to changes in the coastlines such as coastal erosion. The rapid destruction of the mangrove forests for economic activities leads to the increase in the sediment load in the water that leads to the increase in siltation. The surrounding land becomes useless for any other useful activities leaving the locals in problems.

The locals may be forced to migrate and look for other places to settle because they need to live in a place that is economically viable for their basic survival. Another reason that may force the locals to migrate is the danger posed by storms and they have to move to safer grounds. Thus, the lives of the people are disrupted as they start life all over again in the new places.

Loss of mangrove ecosystems exposes the coastline to storms and hurricanes, which causes loss of life and property. The roots of the mangrove trees are massive as seen in Figure 1 and very effective in dispersing wave energy away from the shorelines (Massel, Furukawa and Brinkman 1999).

Photograph Theo Allofs/Corbis

Fig. 1. Photograph Theo Allofs/Corbis.

The mangroves roots silt the sediments hence create a fertile environment suitable for the aquatic marine. They also reduce the accumulation of sediments in the surrounding marine environments in addition to the protection of the coastal shoreline. Thus, the destruction of the mangroves ecosystem puts human beings at the risk of death from tsunamis, hurricanes and storms due to lack of a barrier.

Several storms have led to loss of lives in many parts of the world such as in Australia where mangroves have been cleared due to urbanization. Furthermore, destroying the mangroves also means a threat to the aquatic life that depend on the ecosystem such as fish, some reptiles, birds, insects and amphibians among others.

The people who depend on fishing suffer as the fish declines hence they lose their source of livelihood. For instance, communities in West Africa depend on the mangrove ecosystem to earn their livelihoods. They fish and sell the fish found in the mangrove and sell the salt they collect in the mangroves. To extract the salt they use mangrove woods to heat it and in the process contribute to the destruction of the mangroves.

If the destruction trend continues, it means they will destroy their source of livelihood and find themselves in deep poverty. Fortunately, conservation projects are underway and the community is being taught the importance of the mangroves and ways of protecting the valuable resource (Mintzer 2010).

Destroying mangrove ecosystems indiscriminately affects the environment negatively because the mangroves act as the balancing tool. They balance the environment by absorbing the excess nutrients together with pollutants and prevent them from entering into the seawater. Moreover, the mangroves help to transport organic matter through the tidal current to the adjacent marine environment in the form of detritus and increase the productivity of the areas.

The mangroves serve as a sewerage plant that treats the water and improves its quality. However, when the mangroves are destroyed their natural processes of silting the sediments and only realising important nutrients into the water is compromised. In addition, the mangroves also help in oxygen and carbon release and fixation and if cut down the process is interfered with and carbon dioxide is not fixated through the photosynthesis process, yet it is not necessary for the marine life and human beings.

The mangrove forests are very efficient in sequestering carbon more than tropical forests hence cutting down the mangrove forests increases the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that leads to global warming. Therefore, cutting down mangrove ecosystems leads to loss of an opportunity to address the issue of greenhouse gases (Mintzer 2010).

Destroying the mangroves interferes with the process of soil formation because as the mangroves decompose its biomass improves the soil matter and helps in improving aeration (Hazarika 2000).

Decline in tourism

The tourism sector is also affected by the global loss of mangroves ecosystems. The ecosystem acts as habitats for some unique species that can only survive in the mangroves. The species attract tourists who come to view the fauna and the birds that live in the mangroves and once the ecosystems are destroyed, the species perish.

Besides, the mangrove ecosystems form beautiful sceneries that tourists enjoying watching and riding boats along the waterways but once the mangroves are destroyed, the tourists have nothing more to watch as the sceneries are taken over by shrimp ponds or urban areas and an area loses its ecotourism potential (Valiela et al. 2009).

The people who had been employed by the tourism sector in such areas risk losing their jobs as visitor turnover declines. The lost job opportunities lead to problems to the dependants of the workers and the people are left unable to meet their basic needs. The loss of employments leads to many other related problems hence the whole community suffers.

Food insecurity

Destruction of mangrove ecosystems leads to the problem of food insecurity. The locals living along the mangrove ecosystems depend on the food they get acquire from the ecosystem in terms of fish. Others buy their food from engaging in economic activities related to the ecosystem. Hence, a whole community has a source of food.

Conversely, the food security of the community is threatened when mangrove ecosystems are destroyed to pave way for shrimp ponds. The owners sell the shrimps harvested, the locals are left without food, and even if they could afford to buy the shrimp, it could not sustain them as the shrimp makes up a small percentage of the total seafoods.

The money made from the sell of the shrimp may not go back to the community. On the other hand, animals that depend on the mangrove ecosystems also face food insecurity because their source of foliage is destroyed (Valiela et al. 2009). The animals die due to lack of food and those that can are forced to go and look for food elsewhere but those that only survive in wetlands perish together with their habitats.

The animals that inhabit the mangrove ecosystems acts as a source of food for the locals and once they lack food they cannot continue being a source of food for the people and the threat of food insecurity heightens. Thus, the global loss of mangrove ecosystems has far-reaching implication such as food insecurity.

Social effects

The other implication of the global loss of mangroves ecosystem is social effects. Mangrove destruction leads to lack of employment. Unemployed people may result to criminal activities because they do not have food. The rise of crimes in an area lead to many other negative effects such as use of violence by the gangs and people are injured.

The injured people require medical attention and the cost maybe unaffordable because of lack of finances. It is also important to note that the local people derive medicines from some of the plants that grow in the mangrove ecosystem. For example, the mangrove species called Bruguiera gymnorrhiza is used to treat blood pressure and diarrhoea, the Acantanthus ilicifolius treats rheumatism and asthma, Excoecaria agallocha treats leprosy, Lumnitzera racemosa treats itches and herpes (Upadhyay, Mishra and Sahu, 2008).

The mangrove species also treat other ailments such as skin, headaches and abdominal pains. The plants disappear as the ecosystems are cleared for other uses. Businesses in such areas are affected because investors lack faith in such environments and pullout their investments. Investors who may want to come to such places fear because of the bad reputation associated with the area due to crime.

When businesses close down people who had found employment in the closed firms, lose their jobs. Such an area suffers from lack of development because people are not able to send their kids to school hence they never learn any skills that can make them employable in the future. The future of a whole generation can be affected by the loss of mangrove ecosystems.

Mangrove conservation

The effects of the loss of mangrove ecosystems around the world have been negative and thus action has been taken to try to reserve the loss trend by mangrove expansion and protection. Awareness about the significance of the mangrove ecosystems has increased and people realise the economic and social value of the mangrove ecosystems.

Moreover, they are now aware of the ecological values of the mangroves and are willing to protect them. However, it is important to note that recourse action to protect the mangroves is still outweighed by the rate of mangrove loss due to various human activities, the cost of mangrove reforestation is high, and some rare species cannot be replaced.

Various governments have started reforestation programs for the mangroves. For example, in Bangladesh extensive reforestation of the mangroves along the coastal area began from 1966, many mangrove plants have been planted, and the area under mangroves has increased significantly (Alongi 2002). In other countries such as Senegal in West Africa, conservation groups have been established to educate the locals about the importance of the mangroves and the ways of conserving them so that they can continue reaping the benefits of the mangrove for a long time.

The group provides the locals with stoves that do not require the use of firewood in their salt extraction activities to save the mangroves that are used as firewood. In Australia, the people have learnt about the value of the mangroves and reforestation has been done increasing the area under the mangroves as shown in table 2 below.

Table 2: Area of mangrove forest, 2003 and 2008 (’000 hectares)

2003 2008 difference Difference %
Mangrove forest 749 980 +231 +31

Source: NFI (2003).

Most countries active legislation regarding the protection of the mangrove ecosystems such as in Asia and Australia but in Africa there is little legislation. Thus, there is a big challenge regarding the conservation and protection of the mangroves in various parts of the world as the mangroves continue to decline in spite of the knowledge about their values.

Conclusion

Mangrove ecosystems are under threat of disappearing if the human anthropogenic activities continue to destroy them at the rate the destruction is occurring. The importance of the mangroves ecosystems cannot be over emphasised because they are vital for the biodiversity they create and benefits to adjacent environments. The loss of the mangroves have been massive the world over in the last fifty years and more than half of the total mangrove area has already been destroyed.

The implications for the global loss of mangrove ecosystems are huge as they affect the communities and animals living along the coastlines greatly by disrupting their normal lives. All the stakeholders need to be involved in the mangrove conservation and protection efforts so that the level of awareness about the value of mangrove ecosystem can translate into equal level of conservation and protection of the invaluable trees.

In addition, there is the need of getting accurate statistics on the global distributions of mangroves so that people can get a clear and real picture of the extent of mangrove destruction. Hence, the urgency of their conservation and protection to try to curb the already negative implications that communities are experiencing because of clearing mangrove ecosystems for other activities.

People need to learn how their activities affects the mangroves now and in the future so that they can know the possible behaviour of the mangroves in the future and take corrective measures now before it is too late. The current expansion of the mangroves is a step in the right direction that may allow even the tomorrow’s generations to enjoy and reap the vast benefits of the mangrove ecosystems.

Therefore, all must join hands in protecting and conserving the mangrove ecosystems because failure to do so is declaring a blink future for the current and future generations. Mangrove ecosystems are very important and as Rodriguez puts it “Mangroves are life, long live mangroves” (2001p. 1).

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