Quite a shocking piece of news fell into my inbox this morning, via the Mangrove Action Project newsletter which I receive every month. The news is a couple of weeks old but it seems that on November 15th, there was an explosion in a hotel in the Mexican resort of Playa del Carmen that tragically killed seven people. The cause, it has been speculated is most likely, is not a bomb but mangroves!
As many readers of this blog will know, I recently spent some time in the mangroves of the Southern Chinese city of Leizhou, as part of my reporting on China’s disappearing wetlands for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The clearing of mangroves in this region has been severe, mainly because of coastal developments and conversion of many mangroves into shrimp ponds. During my research however, I had never heard of anything like mangroves causing explosions.
The following snippet from the NPR article hints at the cause:
The oxygen-deprived muck underlying mangrove swamps is known to produce methane gas, said Roberto Iglesias, a biologist with the Ocean Sciences Institute of Mexico’s National Autonomous University who works on coral reefs and coastal environments in Puerto Morelos, not far from the resort of Playa del Carmen.
“We used to take students around outside … and all you had to do was move the sediment a little, bubbles would come up and you could start flames when you lit them with a lighter,” Iglesias said, adding that builders frequently cover swampy areas with a layer of crushed rock and concrete, which acts as a stopper that accumulates gas.
The consequences of clearing mangroves are far-reaching and diverse. This is an ecosystem which demands our respect and protection. If you missed it the first time round and you’d like to learn more about mangroves, here’s a link to my short-video on the remaining pockets in Southern China and what is being done to protect them.
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If you’re in China (and don’t have a VPN) you can view it here via Tudou.com