Losing mangrove forests in El Salvador

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With disastrous volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and extreme storms, El Salvador is widely regarded as one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to natural disasters. With the effects of climate change complicating social and economic crises, the El Salvadorian government has recognised that national security considerations must include discussion of environmental factors, leading to the Minister of the Environment Herman Chavez to proclaim Climate Change as “our number-one priority” in February 2011.

However, as Salvadorians well know, when it comes to natural disasters, some things are simply out of their control. The demise of the country’s mangrove forests is one of these things.

El Salvador’s Pacific Mangrove forest, the largest of its kind in Central America, covers over 20,000 hectares in and around the Jiquilisco Bay. Mangroves are traditionally considered to be a natural protection from extreme flooding and rising tides, acting as an invaluable buffer zone during extreme weather events.

Several years ago, however, local communities began noticing a strange phenomenon: The mangroves at the edge of the ocean were dying.

A threatened ecosystem

The mangrove forest is a unique ecosystem found in tropical and sub-tropical coastal regions in the Americas, Middle East, Asia and Oceania. Often found where fresh water and salt water mix, the mangrove creates specific ecological conditions that support a wide variety of flora and fauna.

The trees have a series of stilt-like supports that extend from the trunk for increased stability and resilience. The mangrove trees have evolved to be able to withstand change in water level caused by normally occurring tidal cycles and mild flooding, helping protect coastal areas from damage from extreme storms and tsunamis. In recent years, however, a rise in sea level has brought the ocean waves intruding further inland than ever before, wreaking havoc on the trees and the entire ecosystem.

According to Dr Ricardo Navarro, director of the Centre for Appropriate Technologies in El Salvador (CESTA), over 30 metres of mangrove forest has been completely destroyed by this phenomenon in the last six years. “With the increase in global sea level, the ocean waves are entering further and further into the mangroves. What happens is the waves wash away the soil nutrients, leaving the trees in pure sand. So the trees die, and then all of the animals leave the area.”

All along the central coast of El Salvador there is a dead zone stretching along the beach, measuring between 10 and 50 metres. The cause? Climate change, says Dr Navarro.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that global sea level rose 21 centimetres in the last century. This rise is reportedly caused by a combination of glacial melting, melting of the polar caps, and the physical expansion of the oceans with a rise in water temperature, all thought to be consequences of human-caused global warming.

To read the entire article, visit: AlJazerra.com

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