Mangrove forests are disappearing four times faster than forests on land. They are among the environments that receded most in the course of the 20th century. Their surface area diminished from 18.8 million hectares in 1980 to 15.2 million hectares in 2005 – a reduction of nearly 20 % in a quarter of century, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Mangrove forests are traditionally exploited for their wood, reputed as rot-proof and insect-resistant. But they are victims of their particularity, which is that of being coastal forests, occupying an area between land and sea. They grow in densely populated zones that are highly sought after, for numerous reasons. In just a few decades, farms, housing, aquaculture, port infrastructure and tourist resorts have come to replace one of the richest ecosystems on the planet.
In tropical countries, shrimp farming is an activity that is particularly destructive for the mangroves, a fact not widely known. In Southeast Asia, Latin America and East Africa, mangrove trees roots are torn out by bulldozers over several hectares and replaced by aquaculture businesses. These are often abandoned after three to five years and moved several kilometres away, to prevent the shrimp developing diseases. All that is left behind is devastated land polluted by the chemicals that are poured into the ponds to ensure maximum productivity.
Nevertheless, the rate of mangrove deforestation has slowed a little today. Man has become more aware of their importance, protecting and replanting them. In Senegal, for example, 36 million young mangrove trees were planted to restore the mangrove forest: proof that solutions exist, even if the rising sea level due to climate change remains a permanent threat.
Extrait du livre « Des forêts et des hommes » rédigé par la rédaction de GoodPlanet à l’occasion de l’année internationale des forêts et disponible aux éditions de la Martinière.