By Seong Yoon (‘20)
Which of the world’s great forests store the most carbon per hectare? Is it the tropical rainforests in the Amazon, the Congo, Borneo, or Papua New Guinea? Is it rainforests in Australia designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or the vast northern forests of Canada and Siberia?
None of the above.
In fact, it is mangrove forests that store the most carbon per hectare.
Alarmingly, the increase in mangrove deforestation rate is escalating the issue of global warming.
The recognition should be raised in order to protect mangroves from deforestation and preserve our ecosystem.
Malaysia is one of the countries in Southeast Asia that has among the largest extent of mangroves. These mangroves contribute significantly to global sustainability, playing important ecological roles: storm protection, water quality maintenance, shoreline stabilization, and carbon stock. Despite its extensive distribution, Malaysia is inevitable from risks of mangrove deforestation due to mass tourism.
According to the UA-Based World Resources Institute, more than 25,810ha of mangrove forests in Malaysia were cut down in the past 12 years, pushing coastal species towards extinction and exposing people to rising sea levels. This rate is more than three times the global mangrove forest loss rate during the same time.
“Malaysia lost 4.6% of its mangroves from 2001 to 2012,” said the WRI research assistant, Asa Strong, “an area larger than the whole Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.”
According to this data, at least 1,000ha of mangroves in Malaysia are felled each year.
Mass tourism is seen as one of the big factors for mangrove removals, along with fish farming and palm oil development. In a 2014 article entitled “Unescocide”, published in the New Left Review by Marco d’Eramo, a steady increase in the number of tourists has taken its toll on the environmental integrity of the mangroves in Malaysia.
Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s Dr. Edlic Sathiamurthy said mangroves play an important role in protecting coasts from storm surges and tsunami waves. In addition, forestry consultant Lim Teck Wyn said mangroves are main breeding grounds for many species of sea life.
Scientists have recognized mangroves as the most efficient ecosystem to counter global warming and climate change by stocking carbon. Losing this natural process, the best mechanism, to sequester atmospheric carbon will accelerate global warming.
A study published in Nature Climate Change says that the amount of carbon released through clearing mangroves amounts to 24m tonnes per year – equivalent to the annual emissions of Myanmar. Over the 2000-2012 period, clearing mangroves resulted in missing the opportunity to take up 4.5m tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere.
Development of massive tourism industry contributes to the country’s socio-economic development. However, without a comprehensive governance framework and careful management, the development can damage the environment to beyond recovery.
In order to sustain mangrove forests, tourists and development activities of tourism should be carried with careful consideration. It is crucial for not only guides but also tourists to be equipped with basic knowledge and importance of certain areas near mangrove.
If we respect the mangroves we will have them, and cleaner air, for generations to come.