Mangrove trees, Walakiri Beach, Sumba Island, Indonesia
© Tengguo Wu/Getty Image
The 'dancing trees' of Sumba Island
On the northern coast of Indonesia's Sumba Island, a stand of mangrove trees appears to dip and sway to summon another dreamy sunrise. Walakiri Beach is gently sloped, so it's easy for a visitor to walk out into the knee-deep water to examine the extraordinary transitional zone of a mangrove ecosystem. Mangroves thrive here at the boundary between land and sea, growing in coastal salt water and low-oxygen conditions where other trees would quickly die. Their complex root systems filter out the salt and form a strong natural defense against storm surges, rising sea levels, and coastal erosion. Mangroves also create aquatic nursery habitats that support a highly diverse range of juvenile fish and crustaceans.
But despite their critical role in maintaining healthy oceans and coastlines, mangroves are disappearing fast, several times faster than forests on land. The United Nations estimates that the world has lost half its mangrove coverage in just the last 40 years. To raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems and to promote solutions for their sustainable management and conservation, the U.N. has declared that July 26 is International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem. We'll dance to that.