As tides rise higher, can mangroves hold on? Researchers dig in to find out

The adaptability of mangroves will be hugely beneficial as sea levels rise - yet we know so little about these fascinating landscapes.
In the past 30 years, Indonesia has lost over 40 per cent of its mangroves.

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BOGOR, Indonesia—Where tropical forests meet the sea, you’ll often find mangroves, which harbor unique wildlife and store large amounts of carbon.

If that wasn’t enough, a project conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) seeks to show how they could also be protecting our coastlines against rising sea levels.

As climate change leads to global sea-level rise, mangroves’ adaptability could be hugely beneficial. Yet, despite playing a key ecological role in climate change adaptation, mangroves are being lost at a loss rate equivalent to more than 45,000 football pitches each year.

“In Indonesia at the moment, we have 2.6 million hectares,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, a principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the leaders of the project. “It used to be around 4.5 million hectares in the 1980s. So in the past 30 years, we have lost 40 percent-plus area of mangroves—meaning that the deforestation, or the loss rate, is more than 50,000 hectares a year,” he said.

The scientists are using the “rod surface elevation table marker horizon set method,” known as RSET, that enables them to monitor rates of soil accretion in mangrove forests. To do this, the team must install a series of rods into mangroves’ muddy soil to act as markers against which surface elevation change can be measured.

This may sound simple, but it’s grueling, dirty work in some of the most remote, inaccessible forests in the world. In the video above, the team battles mud and tides to carry out their fieldwork in Bintuni Bay, Papua, Indonesia.

For more information about CIFOR’s research in coastal wetlands, go to

CIFOR’s SWAMP project is supported in part by USAID and the US Forest Service and forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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