Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kansas Mangroves

       My students in class had never heard of mangroves. It is understandable, as they are young and we are in Kansas--pretty far away from mangroves. No, they are not a place to find men, though you can find man living in harmony with them. Mangroves are an ecosystem far from Kansas, but which impact it, nonetheless. We have all heard of how the destruction of rain forests affects the planet. People breathe oxygen; plants "breathe" CO2. In an age where we're really studying the effects of carbon in our atmosphere, I find it astounding to learn that mangroves sequester (breathe in, if you will) up to five times more CO2 than the rain forests on the planet. That is significant.

        It is also significant that we have destroyed 35% of the world's mangroves in the last few decades, with an estimated 1% destroyed each year. Shrimp farming, coastal development, resorts and golf courses are some of the causes of destruction.

       So what is a mangrove? It is a coastal ecosystem in the subtropics and tropics. Trees and shrubs grow in this shallow, watery area at the edge of saltwater bodies, and provide nurseries to young fish, shellfish and marine mammals. I read that some sharks will swim thousands of miles to return to the mangrove in which they were born. Mangroves also control storm surge, fight erosion and protect coral reefs. There are large projects and initiatives that have begun in effort to conserve mangroves and even to help generate new ones.

       My friend, Bev, is a scientist who has studied mangroves and their amazing contributions to so many ecosystems. My students were in as much awe of her work as I was when first hearing about it. Bev is a force for change on a global scale. My students looked at each other, wondering what they could do. Then they discussed the many things they could on a personal and community level that affected the world, and water runoff--and even mangroves. And we felt empowered and motivated.

       In a Nutrition class which covers topics like diet, vitamins and minerals as well as feeding the world, population growth and food availability--mangroves fit into discussion surprisingly well. Feeding our people and taking care of our planet can be done without hurting either. We just have to want to enough.


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