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Mangrove Forests: The Unsung Heroes in Combating Climate Change

When you think about ways to combat the inevitable destruction caused by climate change and rising sea levels, what comes to mind?

Perhaps seawalls and other artificial barriers? Solar panels? Far-fetched possibilities like floating cities or even planetary evacuation, a la Interstellar?

While all of these have their merits, nature has truly provided us with an extraordinary tool to protect coastal communities while absorbing carbon dioxide: the humble salt marsh plants, or mangrove plants.

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Mangrove plants first emerged from Earth’s primordial soup about 75 million years ago and are now found all over the world, although mostly between 30 degrees north and south of the equator, with the highest density within 5 degrees of the equator.

Did You Know?

Mangrove plants first appeared from Earth’s primordial soup about 75 million years ago.

There are 110 recognized species of mangrove plants, with 54 of them considered “”””true mangroves,”””” meaning they are only found in the habitat of mangrove forests. The terminology can be a bit confusing: in Vietnamese, “”””mangrove forest”””” is used to refer to the community of mangrove species, such as Can Gio in Saigon, including other plant species beyond mangroves.

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Mangrove plants, on the other hand, refer to various species of mangrove plants in general, with the Rhizophora apiculata (loop-root mangrove) being one of the most common species in Vietnam – they are characterized by distinctive aerial roots visible when the tide recedes.

For the purposes of this article, we will use mangrove plants when referring to individual plant species.

Mangrove Plants in Vietnam

Southeast Asia is home to the most diverse mangrove forests in the world, and as a tropical coastal nation with an extensive coastline, Vietnam plays a crucial role in this regard. Vast mangrove forests can be found in the Mekong Delta provinces such as Ca Mau and Tra Vinh, while Saigon’s Can Gio is often called the “”””green lung”””” of the city thanks to its extensive mangrove forests, which have been recognized by UNESCO. You can also find patches of mangrove forests near Tra Co, Quy Nhon, Hue, and as far north as Hai Phong and Quang Ninh.

However, these mangrove forests are under threat not only in Vietnam but around the world. Their coastal habitat is often desired by real estate developers and tourism, as evidenced by ongoing discussions about potential developments in Can Gio and Cat Ba.

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“”””These mangrove forests are under threat, not only in Vietnam but worldwide.””””

A quick Google Maps search of Quy Nhon under the Thị Nại Bridge shows that mangrove forest areas are being filled for construction. Southern Vietnam’s mangrove forests were also heavily defoliated by the US Air Force during the war, especially in Can Gio, leaving behind a barren land that has been gradually restored in the decades since.

But all hope is not lost: organizations are working to expand mangrove forests in both Ca Mau and Tra Vinh, and awareness is growing about their role in protecting people from rising sea levels, tidal surges, and storms, while helping to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

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