Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Does Economic Development Lead to Mangrove Loss? A Cross-Country Analysis

Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Does Economic Development Lead to Mangrove Loss? A Cross-Country Analysis

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Mangrove, or mangal, systems are the subtropical and tropical equivalents of the temperate coastal and estuarine salt marsh system. They are essentially forest-based systems that tolerate salt and occupy the intertidal zone between land and sea. Although mangroves are generally found within 25[degrees] north and south of the Equator, they can be found in some northern latitudes as high as 32[degrees] (Maltby, 1986).

Mangroves line one quarter of the world's tropical and subtropical coastlines, covering an area of between 190,000 and 240,000 [km.sup.2] globally (Kelleher et al., 1995). Approximately 117 countries and territories have mangrove resources within their borders (WCMC, 1994). Indonesia has the largest area of mangrove forest, estimated at 4.5 million ha. Nigeria, Australia, Mexico, and Malaysia have the next largest areas of mangrove forest estimated at around 1 to 2 million ha (WRI, 1996). Mangroves are very important to many tropical and subtropical countries, because they serve to protect coastlines from tidal waves, sea erosion, and hurricanes. Furthermore, they are highly productive natural ecosystems and provide nutrients and shelter to many commercially important aquatic organisms (Mitsch and Gosselink, 1993; Mooney et al., 1995; WCMC, 1994; WRI, 1996).

Today, mangroves are one of the world's most threatened ecosystems and are rapidly disappearing in many tropical countries where they were once abundant. For example, Malaysia may have lost 17% of its mangrove area between 1965 and 1985, India as much as 50% between 1963 and 1977, and the Philippines as much as 70% between 1920 and 1990 (WRI, 1996). Many of the other countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa have lost between 30% and 70% of their mangrove area in the last 30 to 40 years (Spalding et al., 1997; WRI, 1996). In some countries, such as Thailand, the rate of mangrove loss has been more recent yet extremely rapid. Over 1975-93 the area of mangroves in Thailand has virtually halved, from 312,700 ha to 168,683 ha (Sathirathai and Barbier, 2001).

Although increasing population pressure in coastal areas and overharvesting of timber and other wood products are contributing to the destruction of mangrove forests, in recent years a more significant cause appears to be the demand for land by key primary sector economic development activities, such as mining, conversion to salt ponds, and agricultural and aquaculture expansion. By far the most important of these activities is believed to be the expansion of aquaculture ponds, especially for shrimp production, into mangrove forests (Aksornkoae et al., 1986; Primavera, 1997; Spalding et al., 1997; WRI, 1996). In recent decades, shrimp and fish aquaculture is thought to have accounted for conversion of 20% to 50% of mangroves worldwide (Primavera, 1997). (1) The growing importance of shrimp farming to the export earnings of tropical countries may have further exacerbated this problem. Since 1989, shrimp aquaculture has increased by over 400%, and its share of world shrimp production increased from 5% in 1982 to over 30% more recently (Anderson and Fong, 1997). (2)

The main concern over mangrove loss worldwide is that it results in severe disruption to the important ecological and economic functions normally performed by undisturbed mangrove systems. In many countries and regions, mangrove deforestation is contributing to fisheries decline, degradation of clean water supplies, salinization of coastal soils, erosion, and land subsidence, as well as release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Barbier and Strand, 1998; Naylor et al., 2000; Ruitenbeek, 1994; Spalding et al., 1997; WRI, 1996). A positive correlation between mangrove area and offshore shrimp and fish catches has been documented for the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia (Primavera, 1997). In Thailand, the welfare losses associated with the impacts of mangrove deforestation on coastal fisheries in Surat Thani Province were estimated to be around US$21-52 per ha (Sathirathai and Barbier, 2001)

Although the loss of mangroves and the resulting environmental effects are well publicized, there have been few studies of the economic causes of mangrove deforestation. …

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