As oil comes ashore on the US Gulf Coast from the British Petroleum drilling accident, the mangrove forests that line the Gulf Coast are in danger of dying. The potential loss of mangroves presents a problem on a number of levels. The salt tolerant trees sit at the water’s edge, growing maze-like root systems. These root systems form nurseries which are crucial for the survival of Gulf of Mexico fisheries and for wading and fish-eating birds. And, the mangroves serve another important purpose, protecting the fragile coastline. In the hurricane ravaged Gulf, mangroves help prevent erosion in addition to disrupting storm surge. Approximately 2,000 kilometers of U.S. mangrove coastline are concentrated in Louisiana, Texas and Southern Florida, the three states most likely to be impacted by the oil spill. If the regions’ mangrove forests die off, not only are the fisheries and the economy that depends on them damaged, the possibility of storm damage also increases greatly.
Ostling, Butler and Dixon study mangroves around the world, most of which, they argue, are already threatened by anthropogenic practices such as aquaculture, forestry and urban development. Efforts are underway in some areas to replant mangrove forests but just how successful those efforts will be remains to be seen. The authors contend that the destruction of mangroves removes both protection from natural hazards and sensitive wildlife habitat.