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As tides rise higher, can mangroves hold on?

by Sophie Furnival, CIFOR | CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)
Tuesday, 2 December 2014 08:15 GMT

A mangrove forest in Indonesia. CIFOR photo

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Researchers dig in to find out

Where tropical forests meet the sea, you’ll often find mangroves, which harbor unique wildlife and store large amounts of carbon.

A project conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) seeks to show how they could also be protecting our coastlines against rising sea levels.

As climate change leads to global sea-level rise, mangroves’ adaptability could be hugely beneficial. Yet, despite playing a key ecological role in climate change adaptation, mangroves are being lost at a loss rate equivalent to more than 45,000 football pitches each year.

“In Indonesia at the moment, we have 2.6 million hectares,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, a principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the leaders of the project. “It used to be around 4.5 million hectares in the 1980s. So in the past 30 years, we have lost 40 percent-plus area of mangroves—meaning that the deforestation, or the loss rate, is more than 50,000 hectares a year,” he said.

To help safeguard what the UN has called “one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet,” CIFOR has set up a project to collect much-needed data on these areas across Southeast Asia.

The scientists are using the “rod surface elevation table marker horizon set method,” known as RSET, that enables them to monitor rates of soil accretion in mangrove forests. To do this, the team must install a series of rods into mangroves’ muddy soil to act as markers against which surface elevation change can be measured.

This may sound simple, but it’s grueling, dirty work in some of the most remote, inaccessible forests in the world.