Mangroves: A Non-Edible Bio Fuel in Peril


The escalating and inelastic demand for energy to fuel economic activities exerts pressures on its limited supply. The skyrocketing prices of petroleum products results in the depletion of non-renewable energy sources and the continued investigation and use of renewable and innovation results. Research shows that energy demand is expected to increase three fold by 2050.

The concept of using human food to create ethanol is on full bloom, but environmentalists have warned that the bio fuel craze can do as much or more damage to the environment as dirty fossil fuels, citing the Amazon Rainforest is being destroyed every year to produce bio-fuel crops. So now we see the consequences in Africa. A market has been created by British and EU laws requiring the blending of rising amounts of bio fuels into petrol and diesel.

Upon this backdrop, Mangrove forests can appear as light beam in such a darkening situation because they have the hidden blessing for production of bio fuel. We must search other sources rather than food material, so forget corn, soy, sugar cane, palm and even jatropha.

Halophytes can be productive sources of biomass energy. For example, Salicornia seed is 32% oil by mass. Halophytes flourish in arid land and can be irrigated with seawater, making them suitable for bio fuel development. Dominating many coastlines in tropical and subtropical areas, mangroves are a bridge between terrestrial and marine environments. They are also extremely productive ecosystems.

The most extensive area of mangroves is found in Asia, followed by Africa and South America. According to the FAO, the total mangrove area is around 150,000 km2. Four countries (Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, and Australia) account for about 41% percent of all mangroves. Pakistan's coastline covers about 700 kilometres of Sindh and Balochistan provinces (almost only 8% of total forestry).


Salicornia is a juicy plant used as bio fuel has a higher recovery and quality of oil than other crops, the plant has no direct competition with food crops. There are experimental fields of Salicornia in Ras al-Zawr (Saudi Arabia), Eritrea (Northeast Africa) and Sonora (Northwest Mexico) aimed at the production of biodiesel. The company responsible for the Sonora trials (Global Seawater) claims that between 225 and 250 gallons of BQ-9000 biodiesel can be produced per hectare (approximately 2.5 acres) of salicornia and is promoting a $35 million scheme to create a 12,000-acre (49 km2) salicornia farm in Bahia de Kino.


Robert Glenn, a plant biologist at University of Arizona, deserves credit for demonstrating the use of Salicornia as bio fuels. Later, Jelte Rozema and Timothy Flowers, scientists at NASA, said that Glenn's work is of high significance. Glenn has claimed that Salicornia could be grown on 480,000 square miles of unused land across the globe. Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Mexico are already running trials to examine Salicornia's potential as bio fuels.


Scientists at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland have been trying to fill the skies with algae and explore new means to create alternative energy source for commercial aviation. It seems like Bilal Bomani, a scientist at NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, has tied the future of space exploration to sub-aquatic life. He is also using salicornia for his experimental work.


Salicornia is also an eco-friendly plantation as it absorbs carbon dioxide. It is for these qualities that salicornia is often referred to as 'miracle plant'. It is indeed producing miracles in some parts of the world and being rapidly adopted by countries with vast coastlines and saline water. Nevertheless, caution must be used.

Mangrove forests are one of the world's most threatened tropical ecosystems. Mangrove forests require stable sea levels for long-term survival. They are therefore extremely sensitive to current rising sea levels caused by global warming and climate change. More than 35% of the world's mangroves are already gone. The figure is as high as 50% in countries such as India, the Philippines, and Vietnam, while in the Americas they are being cleared at a rate faster than tropical rainforests.

Freshwater diversions can also lead to mangroves drying out, if salinity becomes too high, the mangroves cannot survive.

Oil pollution can smother mangrove roots and suffocate the trees. These communities also collect medicinal plants from mangrove ecosystems and use mangrove leaves as animal fodder. Recently, the forests have also been commercially harvested for pulp, wood chip, and charcoal production.

We must continue to evolve bio fuels to incorporate feed stocks that are not only sustainable, but actually regenerative and can restore the ecosystems where they are found. Mangrove is a source of timber, fuel, railroad ties and tannin in the tropics. Having a short crop rotation period makes red mangroves a popular choice for posts and poles in managed forests in Malaysia. In Asia, commercial mangrove production is necessary for the construction of boats, houses and furniture.

Productive steps must be taken in increase the population and protective function of mangroves, but also provide sustainable and value-added livelihoods to the poor coastal population. Many efforts are being done to establish mangrove plantations along the entire coast for rehabilitation purposes, 19,000 ha of Avicennia marina and Rhizophora mucronata have been rehabilated in Sindh and Balochistan in the 1990 within a collaboration between the Sindh Government and IUCN and around 17,000 ha have been restored in the Indus delta with support of the World Bank in 1999.


Figure1: Trends in Pakistani mangrove area over time


Senior Advisor on coastal ecosystems with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Tahir Qureshi, has extended help in rehabilitating 30,000 hectares of mangroves along the southern coast on the Arabian Sea, including in Baluchistan. Some mangrove areas have been converted to cultivated land prior to 1995. After losses in mangrove extent that may have occurred have been balanced by the natural regeneration and reforestation efforts, consequently no major changes appear to have occurred over the last ten years.

In other developing countries mangroves are being exploited and shipped for pulp and particleboard. The renewed mangroves would serve as a carbon sink and source of bio ethanol fuel to reduce carbon dioxide emission and generate good income to alleviate poverty and mitigate climate change. More than 500,000 individuals would benefit, including many in the transport sector. They would not only help revolutionize poverty but also serve as raw material for some industries and exports.

Figure 2: Trends in mangrove area extent over time



Although aquatic plants may have less commercial potential than do terrestrial plants, future advances in technology may open promising doors for the economic use of harvested aquatic weeds in Pakistan and elsewhere.