Washington, May 12 : A new report has established that the devastating impact of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Burma on May 2, could have been lessened if mangrove forests had been conserved along the nation's coastlines.
According to a report in ENN (Environmental News Network), mangrove forests and coastal greenbelts can act like buffer zones when such natural disasters strike a country.
"This latest disaster in Burma is a grim reminder of other recent natural disasters," said Alfredo Quarto, executive director of MAP (Mangove Action Project).
"The force of the cyclone could have been greatly lessened and much loss in life and property damage could have been averted if healthy mangrove forests had been conserved along the coastlines of the Irawaddy Delta," he added.
The Irawaddy Delta was formerly a lush, highly biodiverse wetland of extensive intertidal forests. Much mangrove loss initially occurred under British colonial rule in order to clear space for rice production.
Since that time, mangrove loss has continued; during WWII to satisfy military demands, and more recently for fuel wood and unsustainable developments, such as industrial shrimp aquaculture and urban expansion.
"The result is that these vital, natural protective buffers have been foolishly destroyed, leaving these areas quite exposed and vulnerable to the energy and impact of waves and winds," according to Jim Enright, Mangrove Action Project's Asia Director, based in Thailand.
There is scientific evidence that the mangroves' dense, intertwining trunks, branches, and roots can protect coastlines, and that the destructive force from storm surges is greatly dissipated as they pass through intact, healthy coastal zones containing mangroves.
According to Burmese researchers, during a period of 75 years (1924-1999), 82.76% of the mangroves of the Irrawady were destroyed and globally, less than half the world's mangrove forests remain - around 37 million acres.
The FAO estimates a 1% annual loss of mangroves worldwide, which signifies a 367,500 acres loss per year.
A major threat to mangroves worldwide is the conversion to large-scale shrimp and fish, while other pressures include tourism developments and rising populations.
This is worrisome to those who believe that global warming and rising sea levels will cause more frequent and intense storms, and that the loss of mangroves will make the coastlines more susceptible to damage.
The most effective method for successful, large-scale mangrove restoration is through Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR), a long-term, effective process that considers local hydrology and results in biodiverse, ecological functioning ecosystems.
According to Quarto, "It is crucial to restore mangrove coverage to these destroyed or degraded coastlines. We must re-establish the mangrove buffer zones that previously protected people and property from storms and tsunamis."