The World's Mangroves in Peril

No, that's not Cyrano; it's a proboscis monkey. (©

One of my all-time best spring breaks was spent snorkeling in the Florida Keys. While the trip obviously featured requisite excursions to the amazing Everglades and nearby reefs (including a pass by the wild, underwater "Christ of the Abyss" statue), it also included a lot of time spent poking around Key Largo's mangrove forests.

If I had been on a normal vacation, I probably would have steered clear of snorkeling near the potentially creepy crawly labyrinth of underwater roots. But since I was an English major crashing an invertebrate class' field trip, I was along for the ride -- and that included getting an up close and personal look at what was happening in the reefs, in the bay and in the mangroves. I found them rich with life -- and not just the type that was going to dart out and nip my hand.

Sadly, mangrove forests, which cover 65,637 square miles of the Earth, filter pollution, and help protect the coast from storms, are disappearing. According to a U.N. report (via Scientific American), 20 percent of the world's mangrove forests perished between 1980 and 2005. Since mangroves are finely tuned environments that mix saltwater with fresh, their destruction wreaks havoc on the specialized animals that live there.

Scientific American has a slide show of wildlife threatened by the delicate ecosystem's destruction. My favorite was the proboscis monkey from Borneo pictured above. I can't believe I went this long without seeing the curious endangered primate that history editor Candace Keener called "Photoshop fun."

Development is one of the mangrove forest's biggest threats. On my way back home from the trip, I noticed road crews hacking them down to accommodate the widening highways that lace through the Keys.

More: Mangrove forest How Coral Reefs Work How Scuba Works