Where the land meets the sea, the roots of the mangroves rise up out of the saline water in strangely beautiful twists and turns. There are two major mangrove forests on the coast: Barra de Santiago in the west, and Bahía de Jiquilisco in the east. The flora and fauna of these two forests are similar, with more species variety in Bahía de Jiquilisco, where the lower Río Lempa estuary covers an area of 63,000 hectares, making it the largest remaining mangrove forest in Central America.
The mangroves are one of the most biologically complex ecosystems on earth. Fish (common species include snook, red snapper, and corvina) and shellfish such as crabs and shrimp all depend on mangrove roots for their nesting grounds, and the trees also provide habitat for thousands of marine and coastal birds as well as a refuge for several endangered species, among them the spider monkey, the hawksbill sea turtle, and crocodiles. In Bahía de Jiquilisco, there are three additional species of sea turtles: olive ridley, leatherback, and green.
One of the most important functions of the mangrove forests is that they are highly effective carbon sinks. They absorb carbon dioxide, taking carbon out of circulation and reducing the amount of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Coastal wetland areas like Bahía de Jiquilisco can sequester up to four times more carbon dioxide per hectare than rainforests, making them one of the earth’s best carbon storage facilities, a major natural bulwark against worldwide climate change. Their location on the coast, however, also makes them one of the most vulnerable areas in terms of the effects of climate change.
As climate change accelerates, more and more natural disasters are hitting coastal areas, including hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, and landslides. Longer periods of drought, coupled with storms that are more intensive during the rainy season, threaten to wipe out crops each year. Half of the world’s mangroves have disappeared in recent history, and with the current global rate of greenhouse gas emissions, their protection is especially critical, not only for people but for all the other species who thrive in this habitat.