We knew that mangroves are extremely precious as a
robust habitat, refuge and food source for hundreds of wildlife species
as well as for
humans. And they store a disproportionately greater amount of
terrestrial carbon than a lot of other ecosystems. They’re clearly an
important ecosystem when it comes to biodiversity. But no one has
systematically assessed the forests as disaster protection with hard
data at a broader scale.
Countless 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.
Recently Giri was interviewed about his research from his office in
Sioux Falls, S.D.