Mangroves: Mother Nature’s Coastal Barrier

Mother Nature’s best barriers and protection for coastal communities are the mangroves. They defend us against storms, currents, high waves and tides.

Not only do mangroves serve as a natural protection for people who live near the coast, but they are extremely beneficial to fish, wildlife, and the entire ecosystem.

What you need to know

  • Mangroves benefit people, fish and the environment

  • They are found in coastal areas in warm climates near the equator

  • Mangrove forests act as natural barriers against storm surges along the coast

Mangroves are a collection of tropical trees, shrubs, and palms that grow in brackish or brackish water. They have a deep, interwoven system of roots that seem to stick out of the water during low tide, but can handle flooding during high tide.

Where are the mangroves?

Mangroves are a common feature of tropical and subtropical coasts. Almost half of the world’s mangroves are found in Asia, although in the United States they are found along the coast of Florida’s peninsula, throughout the Everglades and along the southern Gulf coast in Texas.

Since mangroves cannot tolerate freezing temperatures, they only survive in warm climates near the equator.

Map of mangrove growing areas around the world.Map of mangrove growing areas around the world. (NASA)

They grow in coastal intertidal zones, which is the area along a beach where land and water meet between high and low tides. They are also found in rivers and estuaries, and can live on muddy soil, sand, or coral rocks.

Mangroves can tolerate up to 100 times more salty water than most other trees or plants can handle, because they filter salt out of the water as it enters their roots. Because mangroves have tough roots, they can handle growing in harsh environments.

the benefits

People and wildlife benefit from mangroves, especially people who live near coasts at risk. They serve as a natural protection for coastal communities and help reduce flooding during major weather events such as hurricanes or tsunamis.

Watch the video below of the small model showing how mangroves absorb and scatter waves coming toward shore, limiting the impacts waves can have on the shoreline.

In 2019, scientists completed a study evaluating the benefits of flood risk reduction in mangrove forests in Florida. Mangrove forests in South Florida reduced flooding for more than half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

They concluded that the value of mangrove forests during Irma helped avert $1.5 billion in storm damage, and that mangrove forests reduce annual flood risk by 25.5% in Collier County in southwest Florida.

Besides the benefits to coastal communities, tidal waters drifting through complex root systems deposit sediment, which also reduces coastal erosion. The root systems of mangroves filter pollutants from the water, improving the quality of the water flowing back into rivers, streams, and oceans.

The mangrove forests are home to birds, fish, and mammals, and serve as a breeding and nursery ground for fish and other marine life. It also provides a protected habitat and nesting area for shorebirds.

Mangroves around the world face threats like no other natural resource. Human activities such as pollution and land development can be harmful to mangroves. Natural threats, such as coastal storms and freezing temperatures, can threaten the health outlook of mangroves.

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