31 January 2008With 20 per cent of the world’s mangroves lost since 1980, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for urgent action to address the environmental and economic impacts caused by the destruction of these vital coastal forests. With 20 per cent of the world’s mangroves lost since 1980, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for urgent action to address the environmental and economic impacts caused by the destruction of these vital coastal forests. According to a recent assessment study, entitled “The world’s mangroves 1980-2005,” the total mangrove area has declined from 18.8 million hectares in 1980 to 15.2 million hectares in 2005. However, the rate of loss has slowed down in recent years, owing to greater awareness of the importance of these ecosystems. FAO is urging better protection and management of mangroves, given their crucial role in providing wood, food, fodder, medicine and honey, as well as habitats for many animals like crocodiles and snakes, tigers, deer, otters, dolphins and birds. Found in over 120 countries, these forests also protect coastal areas against erosion, cyclones and wind. “Mangroves are important forested wetlands and most countries have now banned the conversion of mangroves for aquaculture and they assess the impact on the environment before using mangrove areas for other purposes,” said Wulf Killmann, Director of FAO’s Forest Products and Industry Division, on the occasion of World Wetlands Day, observed on 2 February. “This has lead to better protection and management of mangroves in some countries. But overall, the loss of these coastal forests remains alarming. The rate of mangrove loss is significantly higher than the loss of any other types of forests,” he added. He cautioned that if deforestation of mangroves continues, it can lead to severe losses of biodiversity and livelihoods, and also negatively impact tourism. “Countries need to engage in a more effective conservation and sustainable management of the world’s mangroves and other wetland ecosystems.” The destruction of mangroves is mainly due to high population pressure, large-scale conversion of mangrove areas for shrimp and fish farming, agriculture, infrastructure and tourism, as well as pollution and natural disasters. The study notes that Asia suffered the largest loss of mangroves since 1980, with more than 1.9 million hectares destroyed, mainly due to changes in land use. By country, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Panama recorded the largest losses of mangroves during the 1980s. At the same time, a number of countries have had an increase in mangrove area over time, including Bangladesh. “Part of the largest mangrove area in the world, the Sundarbans Reserved Forest in Bangladesh is well protected and no major changes in the extent of the area have occurred during the last few decades, although some damage to the mangroves was reported after the recent cyclone in 2007,” said Senior Forestry Officer Mette Wilkie. FAO is currently working on producing a World Atlas of Mangroves to be published later this year.