Saving our mangrove swamps will save our food and facials

Saving our mangrove swamps will save our food and facials
M. Muniama, 64, and husband D. Mariappan, 72, with mud crabs caught at Kuala Jalan Baharu mangrove in Balik Pulau, Penang.
PHOTO: The Star/ Asia News Network

July 26 is the International Day For The Conservation Of The Mangrove Ecosystem.

This is the second year for the observation day established by UNESCO to underline the importance of mangrove swamps worldwide.

Mangroves take root at inter-tidal zones along coastlines in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

In Malaysia, swamps can be found at 27 places including Matang in Perak, Sekinchan in Selangor, and Marudu Bay in Sabah.

It may not look like it, but these coastal forests are an endangered habitat, more so than tropical rainforests.

Globally, more than 40,000km² - that's over one-third of all mangroves - was estimated to have been destroyed in 20 years (1980-2000).

The swamps made way for things like factory development, and fish and prawn farms.

The loss and degradation of mangroves has a closer impact on our daily lives than most people realise.

Not only are these swamps sanctuaries, feeding grounds and breeding habitats for mammals, reptiles, migratory and aquatic birds, fish and crustacean species, mangroves also provide human communities with a commercial source of food, medicinal plants, and timber material - like the charcoal that ends up in our vanity products.

So here are four everyday reasons why we should protect and restore our mangrove ecosystem.

Sepang River is an estuary that hosts the Rhizophora and Sonneratia mangrove species. It's also an important area for commercial fishing and ecotourism. PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

Fisheries (Or, Cheaper Crabs At Seafood Restaurants)

Mangrove swamps are crucial nurseries and home to large varieties of fish, crabs and prawns, including crayfish and mud crabs (or mangrove crabs), just some of our favourite orders at seafood restaurants.

Roughly half of all fish landings on the coast of peninsular Malaysia are associated with mangroves.

Without a sustainable ecosystem, you can guess what the subsequent decline of crab harvests will cause: more expensive seafood dinners.

A worker removes bark from a mangrove log in a traditional charcoal factory in Kuala Sepetang, Perak. The process involves smoking mangrove wood with heat for 25 days in a kiln and cooling it for a week. Each 1kg bag of charcoal is sold for RM6 (S$1.90). PHOTO: AFP

Timber And Plant Products (Or, That Stuff That Helps You Give Good Face)

Mangrove trees or pokok bakau are logged mostly for wood that goes into firewood and charcoal.

In fact, a lot of that charcoal ends up in several of our beauty products, like the BLACK GOLD Handmade Charcoal Soap (RM35 (S$11) for one 120g bar).

The commercial value of mangrove timber is so great that real-time monitoring systems are in place at Sabak Bernam, Selangor to enable the community, researchers and authorities to catch illegal logging activities.

Fishing boats piled up at the Kota Kuala Muda mangrove in Penang after the 2004 tsunami hit the Kedah side of the same swamp. PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

Coastal Protection (Or, How Not To Get Swept Away By The Sea)

Mangrove swamps act as natural barriers against coastal erosion, and protect the coastline from destructive waves and strong winds.

Their presence in some areas even lessened the force of rogue waves caused by the 2004 tsunami. In research done at Cuddalore district in southeastern India, to test the benefits of coastal forests against tsunamis, it was concluded that out of five villages - two on the shoreline, three shielded by mangroves - those behind the woodlands suffered less than the others.

TM staff planted 300 mangrove saplings during the company's "green day" outing in Perak back in June 2012. PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

Tourism (Or, Taking A Holiday With Mother Nature)

Ecotourism is big business in Malaysia, and the biodiversity of mangrove swamps has caught the attention of tourists from around the world.

Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve in Taiping, Perak is one of the most famous, with a boardwalk that allows visitors to get closer to the environment.

You can also get first-hand experience at replanting bakau and lenggadai tree samplings, part of a reforestation programme by the Perak State Forestry Department.

Another place to experience a mangrove habitat is Hutan Bakau Kuala Bakau, also in Perak.

And among the NGOs that are actively promoting mangrove conservation in Malaysia is Sahabat Hutan Bakau (Friends Of Mangrove).


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