Mangroves as a solution to the climate crisis

Climate change is the biggest threat our world faces. Already, we are seeing astonishing ice melt in the Arctic, sea level rise threatening coastal communities, and more extreme weather events including forest fires, winter storms, and tropical cyclones worldwide. WWF is committed to reducing carbon pollution and adapting to global warming alongside valued partners by utilizing a range of tools.

One of those tools is the mangrove. There are more than 60 different species of mangrove tree, all specialized to grow along waterlogged coastlines in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Despite being relatively unknown, they are an incredible group of plants. Not only do they have a unique ability to thrive in saltwater environments, but their strong and complex root systems also protect coastal communities and landscapes from extreme weather events, like hurricanes.

A nature-based solution

Mangrove with aerial roots and pneumatophores along the West coast of Madagascar

Mangroves are regularly referred to as a “nature-based solution”—a term often used in reference to tackling the climate crisis. A nature-based solution leverages the strengths that already exist in nature to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of change. One of mangroves’ biggest strengths lies in their ability to capture and store carbon. The muddy soil that mangroves live in is extremely carbon-rich and over time the mangroves help to not only add to this store of soil by capturing sediment but hold it—and the carbon—in place. The amount of carbon stored beneath these trees is estimated to be up to four times greater than that stored by other tropical forests, making these coastal forests extremely valuable in the fight against climate change.

Communities and mangroves

Under sustainable management, mangroves provide many livelihood opportunities for local communities that can help to keep these valuable coastal ecosystems intact. Shellfish gathering, fishing, and beekeeping are some of these opportunities that communities living alongside mangroves can benefit from with a thriving mangrove forest.

A wide shot of a line of community members in colorful clothing reaching their hands into brown, shallow water to help restore mangrove trees in Madagascar

Community mangrove restoration in Madagascar

Mangroves also generate indirect income for communities. These trees and their vast root systems serve as a protective shelter for vulnerable young marine life as they grow and mature, including juvenile sharks, grouper, and parrotfish that then swim out to coral reefs once they’ve grown large enough. This lifecycle supports both biodiversity and community livelihoods through sustainably conducted reef tourism and offshore fishing.

Mangroves provide other benefits to local communities too, the most vital being storm surge protection. The tight growth of interlocking mangrove roots and branches interrupts rising water and large waves, thereby protecting people, homes, and business infrastructure from powerful storm surges—a benefit that will only grow in importance as extreme weather events continue to worsen as a result of climate change.

What WWF is doing

WWF is actively working around the world on mangrove restoration and conservation. With support from the Bezos Earth Fund, we are implementing a “Mangroves for Communities and Climate” initiative, working with communities, governments, and other partners in four countries: Mexico, Madagascar, Fiji, and Colombia. The five-year grant aims to protect, restore, and strengthen the management of 2.47 million acres of mangroves, thereby safeguarding an estimated 2 billion tons of carbon and protecting 300,000 people living alongside these coastal forests.

This initiative builds off our experience working with partners to protect, conserve, and restore mangroves in more than 20 countries around the world. This includes recent efforts working alongside the Belizean government, other NGOs, research groups, and community stakeholders to incorporate mangroves as a nature-based solution into the country’s commitments under the UN Paris Climate Agreement. An important component of the project is building in-country capacity to monitor progress towards the commitments—vital to ensure that the solution is long-lasting.

WWF is also a founder of the Global Mangrove Alliance; a collaborative network of more than two dozen NGOs, research groups, and philanthropic organizations all committed to increasing the global area of mangrove habitat and protecting existing forest through global policy change and scientific advancement over the next ten years.