I work in a place where land and ocean water meet. It is a mangrove forest. Mangroves are a group of distinctive trees that rise from a tangle of roots lodged in the mud. These wetlands are tough.

Mangrove shrubs and trees live in water up to 100 times saltier than most other plants can tolerate. They thrive despite twicedaily flooding by ocean tides. And they frequently bear the brunt of ocean storms and hurricanes.

Welcome to Brazil

On the coast of Brazil lie the longest continuous mangrove forests. These are among the most unspoiled mangrove forests. Trees here are more than 40 meters (131 feet) high and can store twice as much carbon in the soil than the nearby Amazon rainforest.

A scarlet ibis finds a home in the mangrove.

Shipworms nibble away at dead wood.

Mangroves teem with life. Crabs, fishes, birds, and insects find food and homes here. One of the most striking mangrove birds is the scarlet ibis.

You’ll also find shipworms here. They aren’t as attractive as the ibis, but they are incredibly important because they eat dead wood on mangrove trees. Then crabs and fishes eat the worms. This helps transfer nutrients from one living thing to another and keeps the mangroves healthy. For the people who live here, these wetlands are critical for the fisheries, timber, and other materials.

The Power of Mangroves

As climate change increases, we see clearly how mangroves also protect us from natural hazards, such as storms. Mangroves form a living barrier that shelters people and wildlife.

Sea levels are rising. Storms are getting stronger and more damaging to coasts. Mangroves absorb the shock of the storms. They reduce the impact of the waves and high winds.

Mangroves also trap carbon. The dense roots of mangroves help to bind and build soil. The aboveground roots slow down water flows, which reduces erosion. Like most wetlands, mangroves suffer from human development. We must learn to protect mangroves in return for them protecting us.

I climbed into the roots of this tree to get a better look at the whole mangrove.