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Apart from being astonishing organisms in terms of the adaptations that they have managed to evolve in order to adapt to life in the harsh intertidal environment, mangroves don’t fail to amaze when one considers the role that they play in nature. A lot of fish start out their life in the mangrove forests.

The intricate root system provides sufficient protection from larger predators that can’t hunt in these areas.

This is why they are considered nursery grounds for a lot of coral reef associated species. Once they get closer to maturity, the fish start making their transition to the actual reefs, passing through seagrass meadows on their way. Apart from fish, mangroves sustain a wide range of other animals. Many organisms that require a hard surface for attachment use the roots that are permanently submerged as a home.

This includes barnacles, oysters, sponges and some algae species as well. The muddy substrate of mangals are also ideal for a series of crustaceans, such as shrimps, mud lobsters, fiddler crabs and mangrove crabs. Mangrove swamps have a high importance for humans, even though that is often disregarded. They provide coastal protection from erosion, wave action and even stronger events such as tsunamis or hurricanes.

The roots are highly efficient at dissipating wave energy, as well as stabilising sediments coming in with the tide, leaving only small particles when the tide recedes. In many parts of the world, local people harvest the wood from the forests, though this has recently started to happen at a much accelerated rate.

There is a certain ecological succession pattern that takes place between the mangrove species, and when humans interfere with that, the equilibrium is damaged, and recovery is often slow and problematic. Nonetheless, deforestation doesn’t occur only for wood harvesting. Because people fail to understand the importance of mangroves, the forests are starting to be cleared in order to make space for construction, agriculture or tourism developments.

By Teo Forascu - Assistant Research Officer

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