Mangroves: Nature’s Desalination Plant

by Sapna An

Mangroves are extraordinary tropical forests that grow at the edge of the land and sea.

With their roots partly submerged in water, mangrove trees thrive in hot, muddy, salty conditions that would quickly kill most plants. How do they do it? Through a series of impressive adaptations—including a filtration system that keeps out much of the salt and a complex root system that holds the mangrove upright in the shifting sediments where land and water meet.

mangroves roots

Mangrove forests are incredibly important ecosystems, are biodiversity hotspots. They are home to an incredible array of species and provide nesting and breeding habitat for fish and shellfish, migratory birds, and sea turtles. Mangroves are essential to maintaining water quality. With their dense network of roots and surrounding vegetation, they filter and trap sediments, heavy metals, and other pollutants. This ability to retain sediments flowing from upstream prevents contamination of downstream waterways and protects sensitive habitat like coral reefs and seagrass beds below. Mangroves are the first line of defence for coastal communities.

They stabilize shorelines by slowing erosion and provide natural barriers protecting coastal communities from increased storm surge, flooding, and hurricanes. Mangroves “sequester carbon at a rate two to four times greater than mature tropical forests and store three to five times more carbon per equivalent area than tropical forests. Mangroves have an untapped potential for sustainable revenue-generating initiatives including ecotourism, sports fishing, and other recreational activities.

Mangrove forests were once considered wastelands of little value and were being cleared for aquaculture, agriculture, urban infrastructure and coastal development. NGOs and research institutions are involved in the mangrove studies all over the world in view of the tremendous potential.

In Singapore, mangroves are found in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Pasir Ris Park, Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong, Berlayer Creek Mangrove Trail in Labrador Park.

mangroves_supporting stilt roots

In Singapore, a study was conducted by the Department of Biological Sciences, the National University of Singapore (NUS) with the grant from Public Utilities Board (PUB), Singaporean statutory board of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources responsible for ensuring sustainable and efficient water supply. The research focused on understanding the possible molecular mechanism underlying salt tolerance in plants and identifying important membrane transport proteins from the leaves of a salt secreting mangrove plant.

To survive under such saline condition arising from the fluctuating seawater levels, the mangrove plants have developed various morphological and physiological adaptations such as salt secretion via salt glands on the leaves and salt exclusion (ultrafiltration) by roots.

Mangrove forests have great ecological significance, both to humans and the functioning of the natural environment. By protecting mangroves, we can help protect the future of our planet.

References:

Mangroves | Smithsonian Ocean

EcoViva

The Benefits of Mangroves

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