Conserving or Removing Mangroves

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Gent Qamili – 13BGrant

Q. Which is more important, conserving mangroves, or the benefits of exploiting and removing them?

The issue of whether it is more beneficial to remove or conserve mangrove ecosystems has been predominant in recent years, and there being no one right answer to suit everyone makes it such a controversial topic. Some countries face the problem of being under the strain of debt and simply having populations under the poverty line, which can lead to a disregard for the environment as it can cost a lot to conserve mangroves, and economic benefit is prioritised ahead of taking care of mangrove ecosystems. On the other hand, in some areas of the world conserving mangroves can be hugely beneficial such as in Sri-Lanka, where they can act as a buffer zone to protect against coastal erosion, typhoons and so forth.

One example where the economic purposes of removing mangroves has overwhelmed the benefits of conserving them is in Malaysia where the shrimp farming industry has developed rapidly since the ‘successes’ experienced in neighbouring Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines. Mangroves form only about 3% of the total land area in Malaysia. Most of the ponds used for farming prawns opened during the 1980's and early 1990's and involved the clear cutting of mangroves. This led to a detrimental effect on Local fisher folk who became severely concerned about the increased loss of mangroves as this led to decrease in wild stocks and extinction of several commercial fish species. ‘The Penang Inshore Fishermen Welfare Association states that its survey revealed that 34 species of fish have become extinct and another 50 or more are becoming rare in the waters off Penang.’ In the early 1990's, the government here identified huge areas of mangrove forest suitable for tiger prawn rearing, and state governments and related agencies were quick to alienate very valuable mangrove and peat swamp forests for this ecologically destructive activity, with little thought being spared for the impact of such destruction on the environment and the communities who depend on mangroves for their livelihood. For example even the bark of the tree has a certain quality that strengthens clothes and nets if put to boil in water, something that fisher folk take profit of.

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One of the many detrimental effects the destruction of coastal mangroves in Malaysia has brought about is coastal erosion. The coastal villages become increasingly susceptible to erosion and being battered by strong waves and storms when the mangroves, which previously acted as buffer zones are cleared, leaving the coast open to direct erosion by waves and these other natural processes. The life and property of locals is at stake as the sea slowly swallows the coast. Some ponds have been abandoned due to the erosion, acid sulphate soil conditions and occasional mass mortality of prawns due to disease outbreaks. ...

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