Life-saving-forests

Life-saving-forests

people clung to life in the branches of trees hemming the shorelines during the deadly 2004 tsunami that killed more than 230,000 coastal residents in Indonesia, India, Thailand and Sri Lanka. In the aftermath of the disaster, land change scientist Chandra Giri from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) decided to explore to what degree those unique trees – which make up valuable forest ecosystems called mangroves — safeguard lives, property and beaches during hurricanes, tsunamis and floods. Encountering challenges while trying to quantify the long-standing hypothesis compelled Giri and an international team of scientists to take a more roundabout and ultimately more viable research path: to first describe the distribution and magnitude of the area mangrove ecosystems cover. With funding from NASA, that path yielded the first high-resolution, satellite-based global map of mangrove forests. Published online this summer in the Journal of Global Ecology and Biogeography, the map revealed worrisome facts about these treasure troves for biodiversity: they make up less of the Earth’s surface than previously thought. This new information, Giri says, coupled with other reports that mangrove forests are vanishing faster than scientists’ previous estimates, can provide motivation and evidence for stronger conservation efforts.

Like others around the world, I watched TV news reports six years ago showing lives and property saved by mangroves during the tsunami. I had an epiphany; these trees really do have a role to play as a protective barrier against some natural disasters, and just maybe the extent of that role can be measured in some way.

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