Mangroves against the storm


By Digging their roots in tropical shores, mangroves not only defend against rising tides and extreme weather, but they have the potential to change the storm itself.

Climate change is an unyielding threat

phtoto: shutterstock

Coasts are becoming more vulnerable to the elements of the sea.

 Severe or catastrophic weather events are occurring more frequently as a consequence of shifting climate patterns from rising global temperatures. 

When coupled with rising seas, this spells disaster for coastal communities.

Vulnerable coastal communities often have little means to defend themselves against storm surges and flooding.

And the ones who are most at risk are those who depend on coastal lands. People are desperate for solutions. 


the answer may lie on the shore. 

photo: Conservation International / Bustamante
photo: shutterstock

Mangrove forests thrive in the inter-tidal zones of tropical coastlines. 

Exposed to the elements from both land and sea, mangroves face droughts, floods, powerful storms and shifting sediments. 

Having mastered survival in these extremes, mangrove forests form productive ecosystems, home to diverse and rich marine and coastal species.

Their roots firmly anchored in the soil, mangroves create tightly interwoven structures of high complexity. Often, these living forest labyrinths form green belts that are hundreds of meters wide, covering thousands of kilometres of coastline.

Photo:  IUCN / Oliver 

Mangroves fight against the devastating effects of climate change, and communities living in the shelter of mangroves benefit from their protection. Large bands of thick mangrove forests can act as a natural defense against storms, breaking high winds and waves and significantly reducing the storms' impacts on the shore. 

waves can lose up to 2/3 of their original height when they hit a mangrove forest. 

When potentially catastrophic waves hit, mangroves can even save lives.

"Mangroves protected villages and reduced death toll during [the] Indian super cyclone."  -Das & Vincent (2009)

photo: Shutterstock

Mangroves not only protect people from the effects of climate change – they also combat it at the source. Recent studies demonstrate that mangrove forests are extremely effective at storing carbon. In fact, they can store 3 - 4 times more carbon in their soils per hectare than those of other tropical forest types – additionally, this carbon can be stored there over several centuries. 

By capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon, mangroves are important in keeping global temperatures low. 

Hence mangroves can help to minimize the impacts of climate change (like the very storms that threaten them) even before they occur. 


1.9% of global mangrove cover is lost annually


Even if we just kept global mangrove cover to zero net loss, we could save the yearly carbon emissions equivalent of 50.5 million cars. 

"Avoiding mangrove losses has the potential of being economically justified on the basis of avoided CO2 emissions alone..."   -Siikamaki et al. (2012)

photo: Conservation International / Duke

3 things that IUCN and partners are doing to help

1. Mangroves for the future

Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a unique partner-led initiative that promotes transformative adaptation and builds the resilience of ecosystem-dependent coastal communities to address climate change impacts and natural disasters. Co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP, MFF provides a platform for collaboration among the different agencies, sectors and countries that are addressing challenges to coastal ecosystem management.

What started as a disaster response programme working in the six countries most affected by the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, has since evolved into a strategic programme working with more than 220 partners in 11 member countries across South and Southeast Asia. By the end of 2016, MFF's portfolio included more than 315 projects with many focusing on rehabilitating mangroves, improving the management of coastal ecosystems, and supporting the livelihoods of coastal communities.

Moving forward MFF will continue to support a diverse range of projects in the region and strive to identify best practices that harness and utilise the diverse knowledge generated by the programme to date. There will also be a focus on capturing lessons learned, in order to replicate success among other coastal communities across the region. Furthermore, MFF will be seeking opportunities to scale up the programme to support the REDD+ agenda and climate resilience actions. The future will build on the existing principles of MFF and its key success factors; governance structure, grant modalities, partnership-based focus and, most importantly, country-level ownership.

2. The Bonn challenge

The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world's deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. Pledges from nearly 50 countries and organisations have already reached the 150 million hectare mark, and many of these countries have specifically included mangrove forests in their plans for restoration.


photo: MFF

3. The Global mangrove alliance

The Global Mangrove Alliance (GMA) is a commitment from the international community to reverse the loss of critically important mangrove habitats worldwide. The Alliance is guided by the concept of a cooperative, collective effort as a means to accomplish more than individual organizations attempting to tackle this issue on their own.

The GMA has set a goal to expand the global extent of mangrove habitat by 20% by 2030.

Even with ALL 3 of these Programmes



Produced by the IUCN Marine and Forest Programmes