The mangrove forests are unique ecosystem that are found along the estuaries and coastal mudflats. The mangrove ecosystems perform several functions such as inundation control, protection from erosion, storm, floods and tidal damage, and generate goods and products such as fish and forest resources. These functions are of fundamental importance for society.
The high productivity of mangrove ecosystems means that they provide ample food supplies to maintain a complex food chain. They are therefore providing fertile habitats and spawning/nursery grounds for many species of commercial importance, including shellfish and fish.
Mangroves forests are important habitat to many species of flora and fauna. The major tree species found in mangroves forest are Rhizophora mucronata (Bakau kurap), Rhizophora apiculata (Bakau minyak), Bruguiera parviflora (Lenggadai), Bruguiera cylindrica (Berus), Xylocarpus granatum (Nyireh bunga), Xylocarpus moluccensis (Nyireh batu), Ceriops tagal (Tengar) etc. It is also an important sustainable source for charcoal, wood piles (poles) and firewood. The species that are used for charcoal production are Bakau minyak (Rhizophora apiculata) and Bakau kurap (Rhizophora mucronata).
In Peninsular Malaysia, the mangrove forests are more abundant in the west coast compared to the east coast. The mangrove forests are found in Kuala Kedah (Kedah), Matang (Perak), Klang (Selangor), Sungai Johor (Johore) and in several places in Malacca, Negeri Sembilan and Penang. On the east coast it is found along the coast of Kuala Sedili and Sungai Pulai, Johore and Kuantan river in Pahang. In Sabah, the mangrove forests are mainly found on the east coast. Meanwhile, in Sarawak, most of the mangrove forests are situated along the east coast and Rajang estuary.
MAJOR ROLES OF MANGROVE ECOSYSTEMS
Some important roles of mangrove ecosystems are briefly highlighted and discussed as follows:
Coastal Protection, Flood Control and Water Quality
The benefits to local coastal communities from conserved mangrove ecosystems are enormous. Among several functions, they help coastal communities by reducing coastal erosion, flooding, and storm surge; dampening waves and high winds generated by tropical and subtropical storms; and perhaps lessening the ravages of tidal waves (Tsunamis) in or near seismically active areas. In terms of water quality control, mangrove forests protect water quality in areas affected by tides, which is the end of a river system. They provide the filtering systems and settling basins for silt brought down rivers and are the sites where salt water mixes with fresh water.
Mangroves Forest as Carbon sinkThis area is increasingly important to serve as a carbon sink and absorbing air and water pollution. Carbon stock is the amount of carbon stored in forest ecosystems, especially plant biomass and soil carbon content. Carbon used by plants in photosynthesis process and assist in the growth process. If the carbon released into the air, they will contribute to global warming and climate change. For example, Avicennia, Sonneratia, Rhizophora and Bruguiera have high carbon sequestration rate. The matured tree of Rhizophora apiculata, Brugeiera parviflora, Avecenia alba and Sonneratia caseolaris content 210 t/ha, 55.8 t/ha, 51 t/ha and 49.2 t/ha of biomass respectively.
Source of Commercial Wood
Rhizophora mucronata (Bakau kurap) and Rhizophora apiculata (Bakau minyak) are two dominant species of highly commercial value. Charcoal industry and harvesting of wood and poles are important sector in this country. For example, at present there are about 60 kilns that has been built and operated in Kuala Sepetang, Matang Mangroves Forest, Perak. This industry also provides employment opportunities for local people. Charcoal are consumed domestically and exported to foreign countries.
Activities of Marine Fisheries and Livestock
This mangrove forests provides spawning grounds and nurseries for numerous commercially valuable as well as shelter for a variety of marine life species such as shrimp, crabs, fishes and oysters. Moreover, mangroves export nutrients and organic detritus, which form the base of a complex food web supporting estuarine, coastal, and some offshore fisheries.
Development of Eco-tourism and Recreation
Education and Research Site For Mangroves
Forest Education sites established in mangrove forests offer students and researchers to more easily access to study the ecology, habitat and plants as well as diversity of terrestrial fauna. In addition, activities such as scientific expedition and studies by government agencies, non-governmental organization (NGO) and institutions of higher learning are encouraging.
Ecosystems and Biological Conservation
Traditionally, mangroves and other tropical wetlands have not been considered particularly rich in species, especially in comparison to the extremely high biodiversity found in coral reefs and rainforests (Saenger et al.,1983). In conservation terms however, this view is counter-balanced by the extremely high abundance and productivity of certain wetland plant and animal species. These characteristics of mangroves make them important for other wildlife, specifically:
-as dry season refugia and subsequently as sources for re-colonisation of surrounding habitats,
-as feeding grounds for resident and migrant wildlife,
-as breeding and nursery grounds,
-as a link between terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
Beside more than 50 species of flora, there are also abundant fauna species such as mammals (12 family), birds (39 family) and marine life (61 family).
The abundance of wildlife probably attracted early natural history enthusiasts (and hunters) to the estuaries, islands and lagoons habitually used by nesting and over-wintering waterfowl. Consequently, the significance of mangroves and associated habitats is much better appreciated for birds than any other group of wildlife, and a number of conservation initiatives have focused on their protection.
There are endangered species associated with mangroves include the milky stork and less adjutant stork, while mangrove mudflats serve as feeding areas for huge numbers of migratory waterbirds, including rare species (Silvius, 1987). In Peninsular Malaysia, the the tidal flats of Kuala Gula wildlife reserve, Perak provides a wintering site for millions of shorebirds every year.