Mangrove forest, Saloum Delta National Park, Senegal
© mariusz_prusaczyk/Getty Image
Mangrove forest, Senegal
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 nine metres high primarily in tropical and subtropical regions and can 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 system, they protect coastlines from erosion.
The Saloum Delta is part of 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 mangrove forests. Humans have also long inhabited this delta, fishing its waters and cultivating shellfish from giant mounds. For as long as 2,500 years, people have flourished off this delta, made possible by the sturdy mangrove, the bedrock for these marshes and the keepers of our coastlines.