As we know, human activities cause a significant change in the global climate. The rising level of carbon dioxide and other industrial gasses in the atmosphere lead to global warming with an accompanying rise in sea-level. As guardians of the tropical and subtropical coastline, mangrove forests serve as the first indicator of climate change. Twenty years ago, along the coast of southern China, there were many luxuriant mangrove forests. However, the mangrove forests in the south of China have been experiencing degradation in the past ten years. The forests are now is facing the risk of disappearance due to human factors. In this paper, I will first introduce you what mangrove forests are, demonstrate how important of mangrove forests to the balance of coastal ecology, and general factors might lead to their disappearance. mangrove forest and seek the truth behind the decline of the mangrove forests happening in southern China and at last, how we can prevent mangrove forests from disappearing.

Mangroves are swamp and forest lands that hold many living species. There were many around the world in regions close to the seas and oceans. Mangroves are unique because they are homes to fishes, migrating birds and rare plants and animals that can only be found in particular regions. The climate supports exotic species that can only be found in mangrove areas. Scientists describe these unique habitats as having the ability to survive on the salty coastlines and where rivers meet the oceans (Gallagher). Many researchers claim that more than 50% of the earth’s mangroves have disappeared. The number of mangroves that exist is decreasing, and some are currently failing. Scientists explained that necessary actions have to be done to preserve the remaining mangroves because of their rare inhabitants.

As mentioned above, mangrove is an amazing tree which can survive in salt water. Its roots are able to trap sediment. The trapped sediment causes a dirty underwater environment.  The fact that a mangrove can live in salt water is known as “small feet”. The magic of those “small feet”, the underwater portion of mangrove’s roots, is that they can filter the salt straight out the ocean. When the tide goes out, the roots are exposed to air and switch their function to absorb oxygen by opening their small pores called lenticels.  This root structure allowing mangroves to live both under and above salt water is vital for their survival. Since the sediment and the organisms breeding at the bottom of roots are decomposing and creating an anoxic environment, the roots themselves need to absorb oxygen from the atmosphere to metabolize. Therefore, these special roots are imperative for mangrove’s respiration.

Besides playing an important role in metabolization, mangrove roots provide shelter and nutrients to coastal ecosystems. Like salt marshes, these shallow, nutrient rich areas provide shelter for young fish, shrimp, crabs and mollusks where they can live safely and develop. Birds migrate and nest in forests like those found in Belize. The forests provide a home for over five hundred species of birds. Other animals that inhabit mangrove forests include manatees, sea turtles, fishing cats, monitor lizards and mudskipper fish. A stable food chain is required for a balanced mangrove ecosystem. For example, a stable food supply for shorebirds living in mangrove forests is crucial in maintaining regular shorebird migration and it is interesting to note that wading shorebirds have been reported to be important predators of small blood cockles. A link has been established between the decline in the number of young migratory shorebirds and low food supply in the form cockle and mussel stock levels (Atkinson at al., 2003). A decrease in cockle and mussel stock levels will cause the number of young migratory shorebirds to decline. Therefore, it is important to protect mangrove forest as to maintain enough food in food chains for the coastal ecosystem.

Not only do mangrove trees directly support many food webs, but they are also a powerful form of erosion control. The dense root systems trap sediments flowing down the river and off the land. While filtering out sediments, the forests protect coral reefs and seagrass meadows from being smothered in sediment. Since coral reefs provide an essential buffer, protecting the coast from waves, storms, and floods, this unique root structure of mangrove forests is helping to stabilize the coastline and prevent erosion from waves and storms. The global disappearance of mangroves is having a major impact on the vulnerability of coastal populations and property in developing countries, especially with respect to damaging and life-threatening storms and floods (Alongi, 2008, E.B.Barbier, 2014 and Spalding et al., 2014).

In fact, there exist a negative feedback from the degradation of mangrove forests. When coral reefs are destroyed because of the degradation of mangrove forests, the stronger-than-normal waves and currents reaching the coast can undermine the fine sediment in which the mangroves grow. Erosion can prevent seedlings from taking root and wash away nutrients essential for mangrove ecosystems, threatening the balance and development of mangrove ecosystems. Therefore, one way to protect mangrove forests is to protect nearby coral reefs and protecting mangrove forests is also protecting nearby coral reefs. Only protect mangrove forests or nearby coral reefs are not enough.

Mangroves are economically valuable. Mangrove wood is resistant to rot and insects, making it treasured. Many coastal and indigenous communities use the wood for construction, fuel, and boats. Coastal communities collect medicinal plants from mangrove ecosystems and use the mangrove leaves as animal fodder. Recently, the forests are being commercially harvested for pulp, wood chip, and charcoal production. In hence, overharvesting of mangrove trees is threatening the future of forests, resulting mangrove ecosystem no longer sustainable.

Fisheries in mangrove forests are as economically valuable as its timber products. As mentioned above, mangrove forests are home to a variety of fish, crab, shrimp and mollusk species. These fisheries form an essential source of food for thousands of coastal communities around the world. However, overfishing reduces the biomass of coral reefs, causes diminishing of coral reefs, and this negatively affects mangrove forests. Also, the overfishing of particular fish can alter the ecological balance of food chains. Besides destruction of coral reefs, overuse of mangrove trees, overfishing, pollution from fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxic man-made chemicals is a severe threat to the mangrove forest. The toxic chemical compounds carried by the river system from sources upstream can kill animals living in a mangrove forest.

Other factors could cause that can cause degradation of mangrove forests are a rise in sea-level, the rise in atmospheric CO_2,  and an increase in air and water temperature. For example, a study shows that compositional changes in mangrove communities in Yingluo Bay, southern China could be divided into two main stages: a degradation period 1870 to 1930  and a flourishing period from 1930 to 2011.  The stages correspond to the colder temperature and warmer global temperatures. In fact, “owing to the location being far away from any industrial area and human activity, temperature may be a key factor for mangrove development  (Peng Xia, et al., 32). Therefore, although mangrove forest is disappearing in southern China for the past 30 years, it is flourishing compared to 70 years ago due to the rise in warmer temperature.

Previous generations of Chinese had lived under the misguided idea that natural resources are limitless. The earth’s natural wealth of gas, clean air, water, and trees may eventually disappear. Natural resources and animals have been exploited. The country is guilty of wasting and destroying critical resources that cannot be replaced. The major result of this destruction of natural resources is that they cannot be effectively replaced by science. Though science can imitate certain elements, these clones may have negative results on our health. In fact, some governments rationalize the misuse of raw materials. The case of China’s disappearing of mangrove forests is the focus of this paper. The paper discusses the diminishing forest and its economic impact on local people. Also, the implications and types of actions made to protect the mangrove forest.

China has one of the largest existing mangroves. The mangrove forest in southern China is located along the coast of the South China Sea. The more than 20,000 hectares of land are on the coast regions of many provinces and country. The mangrove forest reaches Taiwan, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Fujian (Li et al. 111). It does not only belong to China but is a collective property. Hence, the mangroves are a collective responsibility of its citizens. According to wildlife experts, 38 out of the world’s 80 mangrove species of plants are found in China. The mangrove is maintained by a variety of wildlife and scientific organizations from Hong Kong and China. Scholar Ming Y. Zheng states that as of date, the mangrove forest is home to 330 species of birds, 400 species of insects, and 90 species of marine invertebrates. Notable animals include otters, leopard cats, herons, egrets, spoonbills and whistling ducks. Large populations of migratory birds make their winter home here and feed on the bounty of fish, shellfish, shrimp and sea worms (Zheng, Ming Y, 2016).

These animals depend largely on China’s mangrove for survival and sustenance. Unfortunately, most of these species would not survive in another environment. The distinctive atmosphere and ecosystem that exists in mangroves are essential to the health their inhabitants. As seen with previously extinct mangroves, most of its rare species of living things die. Some species of birds migrated from other endangered locations to southern China (Gallagher, 2016). The mangrove forests are supposed to be a haven for some endangered species. However, several scientists and conservationist warn that China’s mangrove may no longer exist in the coming years.

China’s mangrove is slowly disappearing. There are multiple factors that contribute to the changing ecosystem of the mangroves. The growing populations in the regions live off the land and benefit from the forest. Ming Zheng’s research on the diminishing habitats of China stated that,

According to Zheng and Ming, “the recent rise of aquaculture at various other mangroves has led to much loss of the forests, which has resulted in declining wild fisheries and shorebird populations” (2016).

The disturbance of the fish and bird’s living environment has killed or scared off many creatures. Lesser sightings of known species have been identified by wildlife experts. The temperature and environment have significantly changed due to the increase in human activity. Animal experts are concerned that the shifts in the ecosystem have been challenging for the animals. Some critics explain that the effects of the changes may not be immediately seen. However, the next generation of people may suffer because the lack of trees may affect the air, animals, and weather.

A main additional factor in the disappearance of mangrove forests is the industrial developments in the area. The growth in population has inspired farming, trade, industrial, and infrastructure development in the mangrove regions (Gallagher, 2016). Large portions of the forests are being destroyed to make room for housing and businesses. Farming is a major source of local income. The government of China explained that acres of forests and mangroves were restricted for agriculture and population usage. The Xinhua News Agency explained that the government started an action, “The campaign of reclaiming farmland from the sea, a large-scale aquatic products breeding project, and some other construction projects”.

The astonishing and unfortunate truth is that China initially had over 60,000 hectares of mangrove forest and now only has 20,000 hectares (Xinhua News Agency). However, the former forest lands were reconstructed to provide lives and economy for Chinese families. Several well-developed villages now exist in the southern regions. Chinese officials reported in 1998; they had 1151 cases of individuals without permission destroying areas of the forest (Xinhua News Agency). Presumably, these individuals wanted to claim additional land for profit but did not have governmental approval. Chinese citizens must have the permission of their government to claim farmland.

The mangrove forest area has been profitable for its locals and the Chinese government. According to scientists and experts, “the mangrove areas are filled with rare minerals and nutrition that enriches the fish and plants” (Gallagher, 2016). The inhabitants of China’s southern forests have created an economy for fishing and shrimp ponds. The seafood of that region is rich and supposedly delicious. Therefore, there is a large demand and economic opportunity based on shrimp farming and fishing. As a result, this economic opportunity has created a significantly less amount of shrimp and fish in the mangroves. The local people and governments are using the natural resources of the forest for economic gain. The shrimp ponds are numerous and large. Martin Keeley, the director of Mangrove Action Project in China, stressed his grave concerns saying,

The nutrient base on which everything lives is very rich, which makes for such good farmland. So, if you clear the mangroves and create shrimp ponds, you have a very rich nutrient base from which shrimp can grow. So, you breed shrimp in that nutrient base but you’re not replenishing it because there are no mangroves left (Gallagher, 2016).

The shrimp farmers of that region are over farming the resources due to the economic opportunities. Growing concerns have also inspired that Chinese government to act and intervene with the mangroves. According to Chinese officials, the government invested approximately $4 million to replanting 4.25 million hectares of trees (Xinhua News Agency).

Heavy metal accumulation in the sediments of the mangrove wetlands depends largely on watershed pollution, local soils, terrestrial and coastal erosion. Firstly, watershed pollution is tightly coupled with the local economic development and mining activities. Rapid growth of the economic development in China has resulted in increasing environmental pollution in coastal areas. A massive scale investigation of Hg pollution in mangrove areas of China revealed that the Hg accumulation in the mangrove sediment was related to the local economic development. By identifying possible sources of heavy metals in mangrove sediment, scientist found these metals such as Hg could be derived from anthropogenic activates like industrial effluents and domestic sewage discharge. (Jinling Liu et al.,136)

Secondly, hydrological and geological conditions are important factors influencing the distribution of heavy metals in mangrove sediment. Dongzhaigang estuary is a Liman bay type, which is in favor for the accumulation of heavy metals in sediment. (Jinling Liu et al.,138)

In addition, the textural characteristic and mineralogical composition of sediment also influence the concentrations of heavy metals. For example, the sediment grand size in Zhanjiang MNR was sandy, which makes it difficult to retain heavy metals, thus the concentrations of heavy metals were relatively low at this site. (Jinling Liu et al.,140). To understand the impact of land use change on heavy metal and arsenic (As) geochemistry by the reclamation of wetlands for agriculture, surface soils and soil profiles were collected from the agricultural land reclaimed in the 1990s and the intertidal flat wetland at Dongtan on Chongming Island in the Yangtze River Estuary, China. The soil samples were analyzed for total concentrations and chemical speciation of chromium (Cr), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), lead (Pb), nickel (Ni), cadmium (Cd) and As using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). Results showed that soil properties (salinity, total organic carbon and grain-size distribution) and the concentrations of heavy metals and As in the soils differed under the different land use types. The conversion of wetland to forest had caused obvious losses of all the measured heavy metals. In paddy field and dryland with frequent cultivation, the concentrations of Cr, Zn, Cu, Ni and As were higher when compared to forest land which was disturbed rarely by human activities. Speciation analysis showed that Cr, Zn, Cu, Ni and As were predominated by the immobile residual fraction, while Pb and Cd showed relatively higher mobility. In general, metal (except Ni) and As mobility decreased in the following order:

wetland > dryland ≥ paddy field > forest land, which suggested that the reclaimed soils had lower metal and As mobility than the intertidal flat wetland. The results of this study contribute to a better understanding of the effects of land use on heavy metals and As in the reclaimed soils of the study area and other similar coastal areas. (Rong Zheng et al.,74)

In conclusion, since mangrove forests should experience a flourishing period compared to half century ago, the disappearance of the unique mangroves forest of southern China has caused some concerns. The distinctive ecosystem that house millions of plant and animal species is diminishing due to demand for profit. Local people and government are benefiting from the natural resources and land. However, the fast disappearance of the forest has caused scientists and the Chinese government to take action. Many studies have shown that metal pollutant is a major factor cause the reduction of mangrove forest in southern China. This reflects on the development of China’s economy. Organizations such as the American Forests are expanding their cause to the mangroves of China. A special project that raises money and awareness to preserve what remains of the forest was started in 2009 (American Forests). Furthermore, the Chinese government insists that it has reversed several campaigns that promoted mangrove farming. Additional restrictions on farmers to prevent over farming also have been applied. Realistically, when these natural resources disappear they cannot be redeemed. The destruction of the mangrove forests is permanent. The land will no longer have strong trees to defend its people from harsh winds from the sea. The air and climate in the region will change because of the population that people will bring into the area. Trees that provided fresh oxygen will have disappeared. The implications of the disappearing forest are numerous, and interventions should be applied immediately. Otherwise, China may have to face the risk of not able to keep it’s economic and environmental growth sustained.

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