Along the Asian coastlines, rural communities grapple with alarming sea level rises, with some areas witnessing a staggering 10 cm increase annually. This phenomenon poses significant challenges for residents and the preservation of these coasts. But hope emerges in the form of mangrove restoration, offering a sustainable and cost-effective solution.

The Mangrove Potential

In many densely populated Asian regions, mangroves were historically cleared to make way for activities like aquaculture. This has left these coastlines susceptible to rapid erosion. 

The idea of restoring mangroves seems like a natural solution to counteract this erosion and safeguard these populated areas. However, the key lies in understanding whether mangroves can withstand the extreme rates of sea level rises seen in these subsiding regions.

The Human Impact

Celine van Bijsterveldt, a researcher from NIOZ, has been visiting Indonesia since 2015. She witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of coastal erosion and frequent inundation on the local communities. Determined to find out if mangroves could be the answer, she embarked on a journey to obtain accurate measurements of the subsidence rate, a task made challenging due to the remoteness of the area.

Nature’s Solution to Coastal Erosion

Mangroves play a crucial role in coastal protection by preventing erosion and reducing the impact of waves. For this natural barrier to be effective, a substantial mangrove forest is essential. 

Research has shown that mature mangroves exhibit a remarkable tolerance to subsidence and the subsequent rapid sea level rise. However, the availability of sediment along the shore is a determining factor for the success of this solution.

The Future of Coastal Communities

This study underscores the pressing need to address land subsidence as a pivotal factor influencing coastal vulnerability. In areas where the relative sea level rise, caused by subsidence, isn’t balanced by adequate sediment supply, the mangroves’ ability to stabilize the coastline diminishes. 

This leads to the gradual inland migration of the mangrove forest, leaving rural communities with limited options but to move landward. This research provides valuable insights into the challenges faced by coastal communities globally as they grapple with the realities of accelerated sea level rise.