Mangrove restoration done right has clear economic, ecological benefits

In the green and dimly lit mangrove forests of West Papua in Indonesia, towering Rhizophora trees loom more than 40 meters (130 feet) overhead into the canopy, their tangled roots taller than a human. Oceans away in the Caribbean, mangroves of the same genus reach a maximum of 2 m (6 ft) in height, their shrubby stuntedness belying decades of growth.

That mangroves come in such varied forms is evidence of their adaptability, says Dan Friess, associate professor and head of the Mangrove Lab at the National University of Singapore.

Yet mangrove restoration projects have some of the highest failure rates around. Adaptable as mangroves may be, straddling the border between land and sea is uniquely stressful. Misguided restoration efforts — planting the wrong species in the wrong places in the wrong densities — push their stress levels further to the breaking point.

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Sheryl Lee Tian Tong