Climate change threatens Pacific island mangroves

Posted: 27 July 2006

By the end of the century Pacific islands could see over half of their mangroves destroyed by rising seas caused by global warming, warns a UN study.

The report, issued by the UN Environment Programme, calls for action to conserve mangroves in the Pacifc region - precious and economically vital ecosystems to many of the islands' communities.

Half the world's mangroves have already been lost since 1900, with a third of this loss happening in the past twenty years.

Pacific island coastlines are particularly sensitive to sea level rise. Photo: J. Ellison
Pacific island coastlines are particularly sensitive to sea level rise. Photo: J. Ellison
Pacific island coastlines are particularly sensitive to sea level rise© J. Ellison
Mangroves in the islands of American Samoa, Fiji, Tuvalu, and the Federated States of Micronesia are most at risk from the affects of climate change.

Achim Steiner, UNEP's Executive Director, of the UNEP warns, "There are many compelling reasons for fighting climate change - the threats to mangroves in the Pacific, and by inference across other low lying parts of the tropics, underline yet another reason to act."

Like coral reefs, mangroves provide an array of valuable goods and services vital to local people and tourism.

Hunting crabs in an American Samoa mangrove, a traditional way of life for some Pacific islanders. Photo: E. Gilman
Hunting crabs in an American Samoa mangrove, a traditional way of life for some Pacific islanders. Photo: E. Gilman
Hunting crabs in an American Samoa mangrove, a traditional way of life for some Pacific islanders© E. Gilman
Mangroves are important nurseries for fish and filter coastal pollution, while providing protection to shorelines. They are important sources of timber and construction materials for local communities. Pacific islanders harvest dyes from mangroves to treat textiles, nets and fish traps.

The goods and services generated by mangroves may be worth an average of $900,000 per square kilometre, depending onlocation and use. A 400 square kilometre managed mangrove forests in Matang, Malaysia, supports a fishery worth $100 million a year. Forestry products from the Matang mangroves are worth around $10 million annually.

To stem the loss of mangroves, the report's authors say that coastal planners should reduce land-based pollution, limit coastal developments and rehabilitate lost or degraded mangroves.

Related links:

Read the report Pacific Island Mangroves in a Changing Climate and Rising Seas

Read the report, In the Front Line: Shoreline Protection and other Ecosystem Services from Mangroves and Coral Reefs

Corals and Mangroves in the Front Line (UNEP Press Release, 24 January 2006)

UNEP Regional Seas Programme

Global Plan of Action

UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre

Western Pacific Fishery Management Council

Pacific Regional Environment Programme