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Mangrove Forests on Koh Lanta

by Mario

Mangrove forests are some of the most extraordinary forests in the world. They grow on the edge of tropical and subtropical coastlines in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Australia. We embarked on a journey to a mangrove forest on the Thai island of Koh Lanta by boat. Why by boat? Because mangroves grow in water! And that’s where their incredible power comes from.

Mangrove forests, composed of red mangroves in Thailand, are one of the most biologically complex ecosystems on Earth. Because they grow at the interface of land and sea and are salt-tolerant, their role in sustaining life on Earth is invaluable. In a word…

Mangrove forests are a world-scale wonder!

Due to their nutrient-rich nature, mangrove forests serve as ideal breeding grounds for countless species of fish, birds, mammals, and reptiles. Additionally, the intricate tangle of twisted tree roots provides a safe haven for the animals living there, protecting them from predators.

For instance, Everglades National Park in Florida is home to endangered bird and amphibian species, Australian mangrove forests host over 100 species of mollusks, and Caribbean mangroves shelter rare green turtles. On our Koh Lanta, you can encounter creatures like river snails, horseshoe crabs, and black crabs, among others.

Furthermore, mangrove forests protect the structure of coastlines. Tree roots filter water, trapping sediments, which slows coastal erosion, stabilizes shores, and prevents sediments from harming coral reefs and seagrass beds.

One of the most critical aspects, especially in the context of climate change we are beginning to grapple with, is that mangrove forests provide effective defense against events like storms and tsunamis. With climate change, we are experiencing more frequent extreme weather events, and sea levels are rising. Using mangrove forests as coastal defenses is five times more cost-effective than human-made alternatives.

In addition to this, mangrove ecosystems are potent carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in their roots and branches. What’s impressive is that they can sequester up to four times more carbon dioxide than a rainforest of the same size, and because they die submerged in tidal waters, the carbon is buried along with them.

You can learn more about this in the BBC Earth article “Could Mangroves Help Save our Planet?” by Martin Montague.

But despite all the good they “produce,” mangrove forests are under threat. According to BBC Earth, 35% of mangrove forest area has disappeared worldwide in the last 40 years. These forests are being destroyed faster than tropical rainforests!

It sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?

What can help save mangrove forests? Ecotourism

As indicated by the analysis of scientists studying mangrove forests, what can help stop the devastation of mangrove forests is sustainable and responsible tourism.

These forests, often located near coral reefs and sandy beaches, provide the perfect environment for activities like kayaking, boat trips, or bird watching expeditions. Thus, mangrove forests become a “local tourist attraction” – they are not cleared to make way for more resorts.

This is also the case on Koh Lanta.

Mangrove Forests on Koh Lanta – Thung Yee Peng Community

On Lanta, where we live, you can explore the mangrove forests in two ways: by kayak or by a large traditional long-tail boat. Tours are organized by the local community in the village of Thung Yee Peng. It is a Muslim community that has been living in this area for over a hundred years. The community’s main goal, as the residents themselves say, is to live in harmony with the ancient laws of nature and not to interfere with it. And these are the values they want to convey to people from all over the world who visit them.

And because in recent years Lanta has become an increasingly popular destination, the Thung Yee Peng community has been able to expand its tourism activities on a larger scale. In addition to kayaking or boating tours, you can also participate in Thai cooking workshops or have a meal at a small restaurant in the port, or even book accommodation with a traditional Thai Muslim family (which we haven’t tried yet :).

Thung Yee Peng – How to Get to the Mangrove Forests?

The village of Thung Yee Peng is located 7 kilometers from the Sala Dan Pier towards Old Town – simply enter “mangrove forest pier” into Google Maps, and you can easily reach it by car, tuk-tuk, or scooter. There is parking available on-site, as well as a restroom and a small restaurant. Typically, you don’t need to book the tour in advance – boats or kayaks are usually available on-site.

A long-tail boat tour will take about 2 hours. For kayaking, it depends on your pace. 

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