He added: “It would be in the best interest of nature conservation, but also nature conservation for the people who are living there. We don’t want to damage the people who are living on charcoal production.”

If anything, mangroves are set to become even more ecologically important than they already are as the climate continues to change worldwide. In addition to the benefits they provide when it comes to fishing, storm protection and carbon sequestration, mangroves may actually expand amid rising sea levels.

“We have an abundance of seawater in the world, and mangroves are halophytes, or salt plants,” Böer said. “Depending on the species, they can grow in full-strength seawater, they can grow and reproduce and germinate, so in times of sea level rise, it might be very important for the future of conducting coastal forestry to have mangroves available because they can grow new trees — they can grow up to 60 meters [197 feet] in height and they have very good wood which be used as a cash crop.”

Such a scenario could come into play in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam’s most fertile rice- and fruit-growing region, parts of which are already feeling the impact of salinization as the sea inches upstream. Mangroves can survive such conditions while also serving as an incubator for shrimp and fish farms which can be destructive when not managed properly – which are key to the region’s aquaculture industry.

“If the sea levels rise as predicted, then the rice will be exposed to salinization, and rice is not very salt-tolerant,” Böer said. “So it would be possible for them [farmers] to grow mangroves, though they cannot be eaten, so that is another problem.”

Across the Greater Mekong, rapid economic growth has dramatically altered natural ecosystems, with forests, including mangroves, often bearing the brunt of industrialization and urbanization.

Banner image: Hiking through the tiny village of Doong in central Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Photo by Michael Tatarski for Mongabay.

About the reporter: Michael Tatarski is Editor-in-Chief of the Saigoneer and a Vietnam-based freelance journalist. You can find him on Twitter at @miketatarski

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Article published by Genevieve Belmaker
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