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Five Minutes for Mangroves

Mangroves are being decimated by human development, like this shrimp farm in Belize.

This shrimp farm in southern Belize is just one example of how mangroves worldwide are giving way to human development. In just the last decade, at least 35 percent of the world's mangroves have been destroyed.


Ilka C. Feller/Smithsonian Institution, made possible by LightHawk

Happy International Mangrove Action Day!

This occasion is a small but vibrant tradition that has been observed annually on July 26th for nearly a decade in countries around the globe, including the U.S., India, Ecuador, Micronesia, and many others. To celebrate, some communities organize protests or restoration projects. Some convene discussions or offer educational lectures about mangrove ecology. Others simply take a moment to appreciate the importance of mangrove forests.

Why have a special day for mangroves? They don’t have the cachet of the giant redwoods or the notoriety of rainforests. In fact, many people find these tough, tropical plants unappealing. When new coastal development takes place in the tropics, mangroves are often one of the first things to go—clearing the swampy shallows to make way for recreational areas or boating facilities.

But mangroves are actually critically important to our coasts and communities.

They serve as barriers against storms and tsunamis, saving lives and protecting property. They filter polluted run-off and provide us with many other benefits, including seafood, fruits, medicines, fiber, and wood. All in all, researchers estimate, the world's mangrove forests provide humans with many billions of dollars worth of free goods and services.

Unfortunately, we’re not treating them with the respect they deserve. In the last decade, at least 35 percent of the world's mangroves have been destroyed. That’s a rate of loss that exceeds the disappearance of tropical rainforests.

At the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Md., Dr. Candy Feller has been studying mangroves for more than 15 years. She loves scrambling, climbing, and crawling through the tangled roots of these swampy forests, even when it means facing harsh conditions, navigating man-made hazards, and—often—learning bad news about threats to her favorite landscape.

Got five minutes for mangroves? Listen in as Dr. Feller and fellow SERC ecologist Dr. Dennis Whigham compare scars and talk about exploring these endangered, fringing forests.

Then, share your thoughts by leaving a comment here or in our mangroves section. Let us know: What are you doing to celebrate the occasion? How do you show you’re appreciation for all that mangroves do for us?