The end of January came to a sad close in Cancun, Mexico this year when the federal government authorized the destruction of one of the last mangrove swamps located in the area. Known by reporter, Almudena Serpis as “one of Cancun’s last wild nature enclaves,” these mangroves were literally torn apart in a single day. Altogether, the 57 hectares of land was cleared to make way for the construction of new tourist attractions in Mexico. Activists did their best to raise awareness both locally and nationally trying to rally people behind the cause to save the mangroves and the wildlife that inhabited them. Unfortunately, those efforts had no effect on the bulldozers that destroyed the land and killed most of the wildlife left behind.
Serpis published a previous article about a month before the mangroves were destroyed to explain their importance and vitality as an ecosystem. As a home to so many species of animals, including crocodiles, mangrove swamps are part of the vital family of wetlands that are unfortunately being destroyed at an alarming rate around the world, some, like this one in Cancun, to build shopping plazas and residential housing. So just how important are mangrove wetlands to the environment?
According to Dr. Jorge Herrera Silveira, a biologist from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute, mangrove ecosystems “capture more CO₂ and store more per area unit compared to terrestrial ones. When you destroy one, CO₂ is released alongside methane, multiplying the effects of global warming.” Sound familiar? If you have previously read one of our division’s many articles on deforestation, then you know that trees also store CO₂ and when a forest area is cleared out and is not reforested properly, then that stored CO₂ gets released into the atmosphere. Mexico is one of five countries home to the biggest mangrove wetlands in the world.
Another problem, to no surprise, is climate change. As the sea levels continue to rise, urban areas in Mexico are the victim to heavy flooding because they were built on top of what used to be mangrove land. A vital part of the ecosystem, these wetlands serve as a barrier “against hurricanes and floods, protect against erosion, preserve coastlines and improve water quality,” Serpis’ article continues. Also, as mangrove swamps flourish in salt water, floods would bring in fresh water in the absence of mangroves—a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos and the spread of malaria.
On the bright side, in some places around the world, mangrove wetlands are being preserved as both a tourist attraction—for nature and bird lovers—and a business venture. This attraction serves as a lesson in sustainability for people who may not be aware of the environment or how precious ecosystems are to wildlife and human survival. As Dr. Silveira puts it perfectly: “It is important to raise consciousness. You can't protect what you don't know.”
The most important thing to remember is that we do have the power to protect. As environmentalists and activists, we are consciously aware of climate change and ecosystem destruction, and how it affects life on a global scale. Even one voice is better than silence, one action is better than standing still. What environmental causes do you believe in? What keeps you from being silent?
For more information on mangroves and wetlands, please visit these links:
Photo Credit: Esteban Amaro (used with permission)
Written by: Ashley L.