When Lindy Knowles thinks back to his childhood in the Bahamas, a particular tree is the backdrop of the best memories: the mangrove. Spindly, with twisted roots, mangroves thrive in tidal areas around the islands, including a creek near his grandmother’s house. Knowles learned to fish among the forests, which are home to conch, lobsters, and a variety of fish; he learned to swim in the calm waters around the trees, with those roots buffering him from ocean waves.
For a kid like Knowles, mangroves meant adventure. But for coastal communities like those in the Bahamas, mangroves mean stability and protection. They’re a safe harbor for hundreds of creatures. And they help protect communities from threats associated with climate change, including worsening storms, rising sea levels, and erosion.
They’re important for those living far from a coastline, too: Mangrove forests are an important tool in combating climate change. The mangrove ecosystem has a superior ability compared with other forests when it comes to storing carbon, and that can help slow the warming of the planet.
But mangroves are disappearing. When Knowles, now 37, looks around the islands, he can see beach houses, condos, hotels, and parking lots where mangroves used to be. “We do like marinas,” he says. The island of New Providence, for example, has lost an estimated 57 percent of its mangroves since the 1940s, mainly to development. Mangroves have also been devastated by hurricanes. In 2019, Hurricane Dorian damaged an estimated 73 percent of the mangroves on Grand Bahama and 40 percent on the Abaco Islands. And the Bahamas is in no way unique: Studies indicate that between 1980 and 2000, at least 35 percent of the world’s mangroves were destroyed.