Articles/The ecological importance of mangroves

The ecological importance of mangroves

المانجروف حماية طبيعية للتوازن البيئي

15 FEB 2020


Source: Alaa Al-Bahrani

Mangroves play an important role in maintaining the environmental balance of their respective ecosystems and act as a home to marine and bird wildlife. Their importance is perhaps not highlighted enough in the Kingdom, but researchers from the likes of the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) have conducted many studies on how to protect them from erosion.

Photographers have recognized the beauty of mangroves; one iconic photo much shared on social media features a convoy of camels crossing the waters of Asir to eat from these plants. Notable areas that are rich in mangroves include the northern city of Umluj, characterized by its environmental diversity. Visitors can explore an archipelago of islands rich in various coral reefs and mangroves that surround the islands – a photographer’s paradise.

What are mangroves?

Mangroves are evergreen trees that can tolerate extreme soil salinity and thrive in earth that is poorly oxygenated or completely submerged in water. Therefore, the plant grows in saltwater, swamps and near the shores of the seas. Cities and areas that are home to significant mangrove populations include Jeddah, Al-Laith, Farasan Islands, Jazan, Asir province, Dammam, Saihat, Al-Qatif, Safwa, Ras Tanura, Al- Qunfudhah, and Umluj. Mangrove forests come in red, black and white types and carry many benefits for land and marine environments. They act as a shelter for many fish and various marine creatures, including sea turtles, while also attracting birds that live under the plants.

Mangroves were threatened with extinction after ongoing urban expansion affected coastal areas over the past decades. This concerned fishermen and marine experts, who said that the unsustainable development would affect the marine ecosystems that needed mangrove forests to sustain its marine wildlife, especially fish and shrimp.

Studies and research on mangroves

KAUST established Ibn Sina Station and a nature reserve near the King Abdullah Memorial Landmark as part of the university's commitment to protect the region’s unique marine environments. Researchers also conducted marine studies of the surrounding area and a comprehensive assessment of the quality of water, soil and types of mangroves and animals that lived in the local coastal ecosystem. They concluded that this healthy and rich environment attracted about 240 species of birds and became home to them in addition to many unique marine creatures. Mangroves also played a fundamental role in absorbing carbon dioxide in order to help protect the coastal environment from erosion, said the researchers. Studies conducted by the Faculty of Health, Safety and Environment at KAUST showed that the number of mangroves at the university has increased by about 20 percent in the last 10 years.