The Jewels Within

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On the surface, mangrove forests, the narrow strips of tangled trees and plants in salt or brackish water along tropical and subtropical coastlines, don’t look particularly inviting.

But they hide treasures.

Recently, for example, a major biodiversity survey on a Cambodian mangrove forest revealed the presence of hundreds of different species, including endangered mammals and birds, living in a key – but threatened – habitat, the Guardian reported.

“We found 700 different species in these mangrove forests but we suspect we have not even scratched the surface,” said Stefanie Rog, the leader of the survey team. “If we could look at the area in even greater depth we would find 10 times more, I am sure.”

In their survey, Rog and her team used a variety of tools to identify a myriad of creatures living in the woodlands of the Peam Krasop sanctuary and the adjacent Koh Kapik Ramsar reserve.

Among them was the endangered hairy-nosed otter, Lutra sumatrana, one of the rarest otters in Asia. Researchers also found the fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus, a feline known to swim and which also packs partially webbed toes to catch fish and rats.

The team also recorded 74 species of fish living in the forests’ waters, as well as 150 species of birds, of which 15 are listed as near-threatened or endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.

The survey is considered one of the most comprehensive ones, but it also underscores the important roles that mangrove forests fulfill.

Mangrove forests are vital ecosystems adapted to saline environments: They provide habitats for diverse species, act as fish nurseries, protect coastlines from natural disasters like tsunamis, and efficiently trap carbon more than other types of woodland.

Despite their significance, Earth has lost around 40 percent of its mangroves because of deforestation for tourism and agriculture.

“They are so much more than just an ecosystem that provides a carbon-saving service or coastal protection. They are actually beautiful in their own right,” noted Rog.

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