KEO’s environmental and sustainability team has been working extensively to conduct environmental impact assessments for developments along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. The locations include rich, native mangrove ecosystems requiring the highest levels of protection throughout the planning, construction, and use of the developments.
Our scope includes a thorough habitat mapping of the mangrove areas using a combination of satellite imagery and on-the-ground baseline surveys. From that analysis, we carry out the impact assessment and propose mitigation and enhancement measures.
In recognition of the UNESCO International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, KEO took the chance to speak to our Senior Environmental Project Engineer and resident mangrove expert, Tarek Mohamed, about why mangroves are so important.
What is a mangrove, and why are they important?
Mangroves are a unique group of vascular plants that grow in saline coastal habitats that are known to tolerate extreme environmental conditions. These intertidal forests provide a variety of economic and environmental services and products. In addition to their direct values, mangroves also support other ecosystems such as coastal fisheries, thereby indirectly sustaining a wide range of social and economic activities.
I live in a part of the world where mangroves are endemic, and as such, I see it as our responsibility to look after them to maintain environmental equilibrium. Construction projects up and down the coastlines of the region share this responsibility and it is part of my job to educate people about the benefits of these extraordinary plants and what we can do to balance their needs with the desire for coastal development.
What are the benefits?
Mangroves produce a variety of products that can go on to be sold commercially. These include:
Mangroves attract honeybees and facilitate apiculture activities in some areas. For instance, In Bangladesh, an estimated 185 tons of honey and 44.4 tons of wax are harvested each year in the western part of the mangrove forest.
Mangroves are biochemically unique and produce a wide array of novel natural products. They are considered a rich source of steroids, triterpenes, saponins, flavonoids, alkaloids, and tannins, and extracts from the leaves, stems, barks, and roots of mangrove species have shown positive results for antioxidant activity.
Recreational and leisure activities
Mangrove areas provide nature experiences for people such as bird watching, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, and paddle boarding.
Mangroves also perform significant ecological services, including:
Protecting the coast from solar UV‐B radiation
The mangrove foliage produces flavonoids that serve as UV screen compounds. This ability of mangroves helps the environment defend against the harmful effects of UV‐B radiation.
Reducing global carbon dioxide (CO2)
Mangroves are highly efficient at removing CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, capturing carbon, and storing it in their foliage, wood, roots, and soils. Mangrove carbon sequestration is equivalent to rain forests, and carbon stored in their soils is even greater.
Protecting coastal communities
Mangrove forests protect coastal environments and communities from the potency power of cyclones and flooding caused by tidal waves or heavy rainfall associated with storms.
Prevention of coastal erosion
Mangrove systems minimize the action of waves and thus protect the coast from erosion.
One of the important functions of mangroves is the trapping of sediment, acting as a sink for suspended sediments. Trapping sediment is important to reduce the turbidity of the coastal water and reduce sedimentation on coral reef ecosystems.
Supporting fish and wildlife populations
Mangrove ecosystems are important for fish production. They serve as a nursery, feeding, and breeding ground for many fish and shellfish. Nearly 80% of the fish caught are directly or indirectly dependent on mangroves and other ecosystems worldwide. Branches of mangroves act as nesting areas for birds, including coastal wading birds such as herons, cormorants, and spoonbills.
What are the threats to Mangroves?
Unfortunately, around the world, the main threat to mangrove ecosystems comes from humans. We are impacting mangrove areas through ongoing urbanization with its resulting habitat degradation, as well as through grazing, overfishing, and pollution.
What is being done to help this situation?
Some of the most significant construction projects in the region are making the conservation, rehabilitation, and restoration of mangrove ecosystems a key part of their plans, and I’m excited to be helping them on their mangrove journey. It is my mission to spread the word about the importance of these astonishing ecosystems and help find ways to balance competing interests by developing pragmatic, real-world solutions.