DOCS Researchers Study Economic Impacts of Mangrove Ecosystem Loss

 

Text and photos courtesy of Prof. V.H. Rivera-Monroy
Mangrove ecosystems thrive along coastlines throughout most of the tropics and subtropics and provide a wide array of ecosystem services, thus playing key ecological and socioeconomic roles. These wetlands act as a nutrient filter between land and sea, contribute to coastline protection, provide wood for fuel, improve water quality, and support economically important fisheries. And because mangrove wetlands can absorb and sequester carbon dioxide in tree biomass and in the soil for centuries, they provide a natural carbon storage site, thus helping to mitigate the impact of excess CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

 

Photo:  Scrub mangrove forest in Taylor River Slough, Everglades National Park, Fla.

 

However, since mangrove wetlands extension has been globally reduced, it is critical to understand how human impacts have affected their carbon sequestration and storage capacities in different coastal regions around the world, and more importantly, to determine the potential economic loss of this valuable ecosystem service.

Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences (DOCS) researchers, in collaboration with researchers from Florida International University (FIU), recently estimated that carbon stored in South Florida’s mangroves, the largest extension of mangrove wetlands in the continental U.S. (~1444 km2), range from $2 billion to $3.4 billion.

AT THE FLAMINGO BOAT RAMP, EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK: LSU RESEARCHERS RETURN FROM SAMPLING MANGROVE WETLANDS, (L-R) TESS DANIELSON, VICTOR H. RIVERA-MONROY, MEGAN KELSALL, XIAOCHEN ZHAO.
 

The study area is part of the Everglades National Park, a unique protected area where the National Science Foundation is funding socio-ecological research in several study sites as part of the U.S. Long Term Ecological Research program network.

“Our long-term mangrove study, initiated in 2001 in the Everglades National Park, highlights not only the remarkable productivity of mangrove wetlands, but also underscores the need to translate our forest biomass and carbon values into monetary terms to facilitate the discussion about wetland protection and conservation. This discussion improves policy decisions that can help mitigate the impact of increasing deforestation and climate change risks,” said Victor H. Rivera-Monroy, co-author of the study and DOCS associate professor.
Rivera-Monroy says that the fact that the Everglades National Park is one of the “jewels” of the National Park Service, and therefore protected from direct human impacts, helps researchers establish a baseline of the economic value of carbon storage as an ecosystem service of mangrove wetlands.

“This value is a good starting point that could be used in other countries to advance conservation programs, particularly in tropical Latin-American where the loss of mangroves wetlands have increased in the last 20 years due to major human impacts in the coastal zone,” he said.

Some of the results of this ongoing study were published in the Journal Environmental Science and Policy and are part of the work performed by Rivera-Monroy’s lab at LSU. As a collaborator in the FCE-LTER program, Rivera-Monroy performs research in the biogeochemistry and primary productivity of mangrove wetlands.

Mangrove forest in the Everglades National Park could be impacted by landscape level changes in water availability in Central and South Florida as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the largest coastal restoration project in the U.S. The goal of the plan is to restore the quantity, quality, timing, and distribution of water flow throughout the Everglades ecosystem watershed that encompasses a unique network of subtropical freshwater and coastal wetlands. These wetlands have been negatively impacted by major hydrological changes in the region during the last 100 years.

“Preventing the loss of stored carbon in mangroves could become a critical component of the nation’s climate change mitigation strategies,” said Meenakshi Jerath, lead author of the study and researcher in FIU’s Extreme Events Institute.

“Having an inventory of the stored organic carbon and its potential economic value is key to designing such strategies that secure funding to warrant their conservation and research work,” she said. “More importantly, it will further awaken the public’s interest and understanding of mangroves’ socioeconomic importance in this coastal region and around the world.”

The carbon storage study was implemented in collaboration with other faculty in DOCS, Edward Castañeda-Moya (now at FIU), Robert R. Twilley, Florida International researchers Jerath and Mahadev Bhat, and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Marc Simard.

Funding by the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research Program (Grant No. DEB-9910514, Grant No. DBI-0620409, and Grant No. DEB-1237517), the NASA-JPL “Vulnerability Assessment of Mangrove Forest Regions of the Americas” [LSU subcontract #1452878], and the Department of the Interior South Central Climate Science Center through Cooperative Agreement # G12AC00002.