Mangrove forest in the Saloum Delta National Park, Senegal
© mariusz_prusaczyk/Getty Image
Saviors of the shoreline. Mangrove Conservation Day
Although we think of forests as trees on land, some of the most important trees grow in water, or more precisely, marshland. Mangrove forests, like this one in Saloum Delta National Park in Senegal, are vital components of the world's coastal ecosystems. Mangroves survive where no other trees can, in salty, low-oxygen coastal waters exposed to tides and storms. They grow up to 30 feet high primarily in tropical and subtropical regions and are able to store vast amounts of carbon, making them crucial to moderating our climate. Mangroves also act as nurseries for fish and aquatic life. And with their complex, interwoven root systems, they protect coastlines from erosion. Today we join the UN in shining a light on the necessity and fragility of mangroves: July 26 is the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem.
The Saloum Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a sterling example of the biodiversity of marshlands. These shallow, brackish channels contain about 200 islands and islets and support all kinds of marine life and birds. Dolphins and caimans swim in its creeks. Monkeys, warthogs, buffaloes, rhinos, and giraffes roam the savanna farther inland. The park biosphere includes salt flats, estuaries, and of course mangrove forests. Humans have also long inhabited this delta, fishing its waters and cultivating shellfish. For as long as 2,500 years, people have flourished off the bounty of the Saloum Delta, a bounty made possible by the sturdy mangrove, the bedrock for these marshes, and the keeper of the coastline.