What are mangrove forests? Get to know one of the most useful ecosystems on earth!
Mangrove forests, also called the “Guardians of the Coast”, are a unique ecosystem generally found along sheltered coasts in intertidal zones, living in two different worlds – both land and sea!
Mangroves occur in the waterlogged, salty soils of sheltered tropical and subtropical shore. The trees and shrubs are flooded twice daily with rising tides and are able to sustain harsh conditions, which include highly saline soil and brackish water. These forests act as natural coastal guardians, protecting our homes and climate by absorbing high amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (blue carbon), as well as providing us with food. Additionally, their beauty attracts tourist activities, such as kayaking.
Who lives there?
This important ecosystem provides home and shelter to many fisheries and juveniles, as well as food sources for various animals.
Some of the key species living in the UAE’s mangroves:
- Grey Mangrove (Avicennia marina)
- Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
- Western Reef Heron (Egretta gularis)
- Kalba Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris kalbaensis)
- Mottled Crab (Metopograpsus messor) [EAD]
- Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga)
- White Spotted Grouper (Epinephelus coeruleopunctatus)
- Hooded Oyster (Saccostrea cucullata)
- Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas)
What’s happening to the mangroves?
These forests are in great danger, with more than 35% of all mangroves in the world already destroyed. Much of this is due to habitat loss resulting from coastal development. As mangroves die off, more carbon is released which increases effects of climate change causing more mangroves to die off and more carbon to be released…It’s a vicious cycle. Plus, there are less trees to absorb our over production of carbon dioxide from manmade activities. For example, a study in Nature found: Two percent of global mangrove carbon was lost between 2000 and 2012, equivalent to a maximum potential of 3 million tons of CO2 emissions. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0090-4
Sea level rise from climate change is also a concern, as this would lead to the destruction of these forests through mangrove drowning. Additionally, the energy-intensive process of making potable water from sea water (desalination) releases hot brine (a concentrated salty solution) back into the sea, which negatively affects water salinity and temperature in the mangrove ecosystem. As our mangroves are already at the edge of their salinity and temperature tolerance range, a further increase in these two could lead to limiting the growth of the trees.
Why are we worried about the loss of mangroves?
Once they are gone, they can’t simply be replanted. As the land erodes and sea tides and currents reshape the coastline, it is difficult (and sometimes impossible) for mangroves to grow back in their former habitats. Additionally, the loss of mangroves means less absorption of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Even with the re-planting of new mangroves, they don’t have the same capacity to absorb greenhouse gases as older trees. Furthermore, without the mangroves, erosion rates are accelerated, especially as cyclones and storms will increase due to climate change.
Mangroves of the UAE – an important part of the nation’s heritage!
Mangrove trees in the UAE are known as “Qurm”, and take up 155 square kilometers of the UAE’s coastlines, according to the EAD.  In the past, the local populations depended on mangrove trees as a source of food, fuel and building materials for houses and ships, due to their durability and high resistance to rotting and termites. 
The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, understood the importance and great value of the mangrove trees, and initiated a massive forestation programme that contributed to the increase in the number of mangrove trees in the UAE. 
We have 13 important mangrove sites in the UAE:
- Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
- Jubail Island, Abu Dhabi
- Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve (which includes the Bu Tinah Island), Abu Dhabi
- Bu Syayeef Protected Area, Abu Dhabi
- Ras Gharab, Abu Dhabi
- Mangrove National Park, Abu Dhabi
- Ras Ghanada, Abu Dhabi
- Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
- Ras Al Khor, Dubai*
- Mangrove and Al Hafiya Protected Area in Khor Kalba, Sharjah*
- Sir Bu Nair, Sharjah*
- Al Zora Wetland, Ajman
- Khor Al Beidah Wetlands, Umm Al Quwain [3,4,5,6]
* indicates a Ramsar site: an internationally important wetland (or Wetlands of International Importance)
Did you know that this astonishing ecosystem is celebrated internationally each year on 26 July? It is known as “World Mangrove Day”!
Other days we can raise awareness and take action for mangrove conservation:
- World Wetlands Day, February 2
- UAE Environment Day, February 4
- World Wildlife Day, March 3
- Earth Day, April 22
- International Day for Biological Diversity, May 22
- World Environment Day, June 5
- Coastal Clean-up Day, September 15
- World Habitat Day, 1st Monday in October
For more information, please visit:
Abu Dhabi Emirate Habitat, Classification & Protection Guideline EAD
Abu Dhabi Habitat Mapping_2016_EAD
Climate Change Impacts, EAD, 2009
Conduct Code for Users of Mangrove National Park, EAD
Emirates Nature-WWF Marine Conservation Programme
Environmental Atlas Abu Dhabi, Mangrove Forests, EAD, AGEDI
Interim Coastal Development Guidelines, EAD
Marine and Coastal environment - of Abu Dhabi Emirate, United Arab Emirates, 2008, EAD
Paris ocean infographic final_WWF
Reviving the Ocean_Economy, WWF, 2015
Smart Investments in Ocean Health WWF Global MPAs 2015
Status of Mangroves in Abu Dhabi, 2014, EAD
Technical Guidance Document for Mangrove Planting Permitting and Management Plan, EAD
Terrestrial and Marine species of Abu Dhabi Emirate, 2016, EAD
AGEDI – Blue Carbon
First Level Exploration of Blue Carbon in the Arabian Peninsula, AGEDI
3D Drone Mapping of the Mangroves, AGEDI, VIDEO
Abu Dhabi Blue Carbon Demo Project Brief Overview, AGEDI
Abu Dhabi Blue Carbon Demonstration Project
Blue Carbon Ecosystems in Abu Dhabi and their potential value, AGEDI
Coastal Ecosystem Mapping Media Viability Project, AGEDI
National Blue Carbon Project – Decision-maker Summary, AGEDI
National Blue Carbon Project – Executive Summary, AGEDI
See how you can help save the mangroves!