During the age of explorers, mangrove forests were labelled ‘dangerous jungles’ and ‘stinking swamps in which death is never far away’. Even though there is now a much better understanding of the value of mangroves to nature and society, these clichés are still prominent.
Dahdouh-Guebas: “In a recent Twitter post, for example, the importance of mangroves was promoted. But the wording started with ‘despite the fact that mangroves are not nice to look at subjectively’. Such framing, using negative terminology as an introduction to an otherwise positive commentary on mangroves, is very often used as a communication strategy. ‘Ugly, smelly, overlooked’. Or: ‘Mosquito-infested tangles of roots that block the view of the ocean’. Inadvertently, such qualifications mean mangroves have a lower status than many other ecosystems, such as tropical rainforests. This has a negative impact on all efforts to preserve and protect mangrove forests.”
Proboscis monkey and other iconic species as influencers
The unfairness of these negative descriptions is demonstrated by the fact they have long since been discovered by ecotourists – an industry that is now worth billions. A group of 45 leading mangrove scientists, most of whom are members of the Mangrove expert group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), want to increase this positive trend. In an article in Frontiers in Marine Science, published in November, they stress the importance of introducing mangroves and other threatened ecosystems to people based on their beauty.
“There are,” Dahdouh-Guebas says, “many opportunities to frame mangroves and similar ecosystems in ways that best promote their conservation. For example, placing charismatic species, such as the proboscis monkey in the mangroves of Borneo, on social media is an efficient way to promote the value of mangroves. These species then become ambassadors or influencers of their own habitat.”