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Nearly half of Arabian Gulf’s mangroves will disappear in the next 50 years

In a worst-case scenario, nearly 16% of Gulf mangroves could be submerged by 2060.

[Source photo: Krishna Prasad/Fast Company Middle East]

A new study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) paints a worrying picture for the future of mangroves in the Arabian Gulf and surrounding regions. 

The report warns that if current trends continue, these vital ecosystems could shrink by a staggering 45% over the next 50 years. The assessment reveals a troubling decline of 14.3% in mangrove cover across the Arabian Gulf since 1996. 

The study identifies several critical threats to the region’s mangroves. These include dredging and sediment removal for coastal development projects and artificial islands. Disruptions in tidal flows caused by such activities further endanger mangroves by increasing salinity and reducing oxygen levels.

Sea level rise, a major consequence of climate change, poses another significant threat. The IUCN report estimates that under a worst-case scenario, nearly 16% of Arabian Gulf mangroves could be submerged by 2060.

The report also highlights the vital role mangroves play in the region. Almost half (47%) of the Arabian Gulf’s mangroves reside along the southern UAE coastline, with another significant portion (39%) on Iran’s northern shores. These ecosystems provide critical habitat for diverse marine life and act as natural coastal defenses and carbon sinks.

However, efforts are underway to reverse the decline of mangroves. The UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment announced an ambitious plan at the COP26 climate conference to plant 100 million mangroves within the country. 

Additionally, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi has planted 44 million mangrove trees since 2020 under the ambitious plan, enough to cover 9,200 hectares.

This study is part of a larger initiative by the IUCN to assess the health of mangrove ecosystems worldwide. Their findings reveal a sobering reality: over half of the world’s mangroves face threats, primarily due to climate change-induced sea level rise.

The research indicates that nearly 50% of global mangrove areas fall under the vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered categories, highlighting their imminent risk of collapse. 

Around 20% are classified as endangered or critically endangered, signifying a high risk of disappearing altogether. Climate change impacts threaten nearly a third (33%) of global mangrove systems.

Mangrove ecosystems cover 150,000 square kilometers along tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate coasts, comprising about 15% of the world’s coastlines. 

They sequester 11 billion tonnes of carbon, three times more than tropical forests of similar size. Additionally, mangroves protect 15.4 million people and support 126 million fishing days annually, which is crucial for local incomes.