They should be! A recent study by The Nature Conservancy revealed the benefits of tourism on mangrove forests.
Though they are not always the star of the show, mangrove forests are widely visited by tourists. Over 4,000 mangrove attractions across 93 countries bring out millions of visitors. Usually coming to fish, kayak, or try to get a glimpse of coastal wildlife, tourists don’t always realize that mangroves are what make these ecosystems possible. And, tourism is helping preserve these ecosystems.
Mangroves are salt-tolerant trees and shrubs that can be found in warm coastal communities all over the world, lining beaches, rivers, and estuaries. Their wandering roots are submerged in shallow brackish waters, providing protection for juvenile fish, crabs, and other sea creatures while protecting the coastlines from erosion. Mangroves can withstand hurricanes, tolerate tides, thrive in salty waters that would kill most plants. They are home to numerous birds, fish, sharks, corals, crustaceans, crocodiles, turtles, monkeys, manatees, and even support waters where bio-luminescent algae flourish. Mangroves also absorb high amounts of carbon – some estimate four times more than tropical rain forests – making them an indispensable ally in the fight against climate change.
Despite their values to human communities and wildlife, mangroves are in danger. They are commonly destroyed for shrimp aquaculture, palm oil and rice farming, coastal development, and lumber. Over 35% of the world’s mangroves are already gone and we’re still losing 1% of them annually; at this rate, a child born today could grow up in a world without mangroves. To turn this trend around, WWF and partners have been promoting mangrove conservation through projects like the Global Mangrove Alliance and sustainable aquaculture.
Mangroves provide an ideal destination for tourists; they can be found in most tropical locations where travelers flock, like Belize, Australia, and Borneo, and provide a unique experience for even the most veteran travelers. Snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding and walking through mangrove forests offer different ways to explore these habitats. The trees provide a tranquil escape from crowded beaches and guarantee astonishing wildlife sightings. The innovative study harnessed the power of crowd-sourcing to understand the popularity of mangrove tourism by measuring “user generated content” on the websites like TripAdvisor and Flickr, and found hundreds of reviews on mangrove adventures around the world.
And mangrove tourism is a two-way street; this study also highlights the benefits that tourism also has on mangroves. Tourists provide an income and livelihoods for local communities who financially benefit from preserving the mangroves rather than destroying them. This offers more support for mangrove protection and helps the communities where mangroves grow. Visitors also learn about the significance of mangroves and how they can help protect them in their everyday lives – which is perhaps the most valuable gift they can come away with.