(Information provided by the Environment Agency- Abu Dhabi)
Mangroves – Vanguards of the Sea
The word ‘Mangrove’ is used to denote salt loving tall evergreen woody trees and shrubs that prefer to grow in coastal environments such as mudflats and upon the banks of tropical and sub-tropical estuaries in many parts of the world.
Mangroves constitute a fascinating habitat interface between the terrestrial and the marine environment located in the zone between the high tide and the low tide. They act as a bridge between the ecosystems found on land and in the sea, providing a safe haven for many organisms. They are one of the most productive and diverse wetlands on earth, yet these unique coastal forests are one of the most threatened habitats in the world. The rate of loss of mangrove forests is 3 – 4 times higher than that of terrestrial forests! Since 1980, there has been a loss of about 20% of mangrove forests in the world.
About the Mangrove
Although mangroves can be found near rivers, they are most common in coastal and tidal wetlands. While these tidal swamp forests thrive in saline environments, they still need fresh water to grow and survive. Mangrove trees have two very special characteristics:
- The roots of mangroves are special as they not only help stabilize the tree in one of the most dynamic zones on earth but also help take in air, water and These trees actually breathe through their roots, which are called pneumatophores.
- In most mangrove trees the seed germination occurs in the tree itself- a condition known as vivipary
While there are about 70 known species of mangroves found around the world, they can be broadly grouped under four categories namely, the Red, Black, White and the Grey mangrove.
While the highest concentration and variety of mangrove forests can be found in Southeast Asia and Australia; the UAE despite having harsh climatic conditions, still supports the Avicenna marina or the Black/Grey mangrove. In fact this is the only species that can withstand the highly saline and arid conditions of the Arabian Gulf. The total mangrove area in Abu Dhabi is 155.21 km2.
Mangroves are found in the UAE along the khors (lagoons and creeks). Abu Dhabi has both planted and natural mangrove areas.
Why are Mangroves so important?
- Mangroves support a complex aquatic food web and a unique
- They act as a fish nursery and are a rich source of fish, shellfish, oysters, shrimp and other crustaceans such as crabs
- They are also frequented by many birds and mammals that feed on the marine resources available within the
- Mangroves serve as rookeries or nesting areas for many species of
- They protect and stabilize low lying coastal lands against strong wave action , winds and floods
- Mangrove leaves provide fodder for livestock such as camels.
- Mangrove trees act as a sink absorbing pollutants from water wastes.
- Honey is produced from mangrove flowers.
- Mangroves provide excellent opportunities for Eco tourism.
- Some mangrove seeds are used for human consumption and have medicinal value.
- Mangrove trees and accompanying vegetation such as salt marshes etc. act as carbon sinks.
Threats to the Mangroves
- Reclaiming or dredging in mangrove areas – coastal development, and land filling activities.
- Unsustainable fish and shrimp aquaculture – removing mangroves to create aquaculture ponds.
- Dumping waste – using Mangroves as dump sites.
- Over logging – timber and fuel wood.
- Browsing or over grazing – By camels and other livestock.
- Pollution; for example oil, wastewater and other industrial pollutants.
- Lack of inflow of fresh water- mangroves in the UAE face this pressure as there is no natural inflow of fresh water from rivers or deltas. This reduces their growth and makes the mangrove in the UAE ‘dwarf’ sized.
- Harsh environmental conditions such as high temperature and high water salinity, can stunt the growth of mangroves.
EAD’s efforts to protect the mangrove:
Mangroves are protected under UAE’s Federal Law number 24 of 1999, which offers protection to all the natural ecosystems in the country. Rapid growth and development constitutes a direct threat to the mangroves in the country. In light of this fact, Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, the mandated authority for protecting the environment in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, advises all developers to adequately avoid, mitigate and compensate for any loss of mangroves. This is achieved through the assessment and permitting process that EAD requires for all development, industrial and infrastructure projects. It is also important to note that the protection of natural mangroves is given a higher priority over the plantation of new mangroves.
EAD also promotes ecotourism, education & awareness programmes to students and the community to help them experience the mangroves and learn about their ecological significance. Our Mangrove National Park is open to the public for kayaking activities and tours that can help the community connect with the beauty of this ecosystem.