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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Ecology 101, Mangroves

Ecology 101, Mangroves


Mangrove's roots, India  (credit: Wikipedia/Ocean Portal)


Sometimes a simple demonstration offers the best way to understand the mechanics that underly  the science of a natural phenomenon. They are particularly useful in ecology where ecosystem changes may unfold over multiple timelines. One process, coastal degredation and restoration, is especially important to understand considering changes in rising sea level from climate change.

Coastal zones receive protection from waves and storms by diverse eco-mechanisms: dense oyster beds once reduced the action of waves around New York City and the Chesapeake Bay; coral reefs still serve the same function for tropical islands where they survive; seagrass beds and vegetated barrier islands once protected coastal states like Texas and Louisiana; and mangrove forests can prevent beach erosion everywhere the trees naturally grow. All these natural ecosystem functions are threatened by one destructive situation or another.

The Dutch have long been interested in controlling the seas from flooding their low-lying country. First, they devised windmills to pump water back to the North Sea creating dry land (poldars) and then created vast dike systems to keep the North Sea from flooding back in. They are now trying to assist other low-laying countries from their experience. The Deltares Institute in Delft in The Netherlands has created an elegant but simple installation to demonstrate how mangrove trees naturally protect coastlines and beaches from erosion in the tropics. Their ecology installation is being exhibited around Southeast Asia where mangroves are being converted into aquaculture farms and from general coastal developments. The video demonstrates the effects of this process in 12-seconds that any grade school kid could understand.

Mangroves and their roots do the work of coast restortation for free while leeves and dikes are expensive to engineer, build, and maintain. WHB

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