Ghost forests are the result of rising water. When the sea level increases, the water seeps into the land, and in this case, forests. The water from the ocean, being saltwater, contaminates the water that many trees rely on and makes it saltwater. The saltwater then poisons the trees and turns the tree into a rotten piece of timber. This affects us and many other animals. It takes away the homes of many animals and also takes away oxygen. Defined in scientific terms, “A ghost forest is the watery remains of a once verdant woodland” (NOAA, 2021). These ghost forests are being created without the public’s awareness. There are many contributing factors to the emergence of ghost forests including climate change. How can we stop the abnormal, continued poisoning of our coastal forests in the United States?
Like all living organisms, trees die. But what is happening here is not normal. Large patches of trees are dying simultaneously, and saplings aren’t growing to take their place. And it’s not just a local issue: seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Atlantic coastal plain, from Maine to Florida. Huge swaths of contiguous forest are dying. They’re now known in the scientific community as ‘ghost forests’ (Ury, 2021).
While the conventional approach of spreading awareness, reducing pollution, and recycling is applicable to nearly all environmental issues, these same measures are in fact of particular importance in saving our dying forests on an individual level. On a cultural level, putting a spotlight on this tragedy is an art installation by Maya Lin entitled “Ghost Forest.” The installation is on view till November 2021, in Madison Square Park, in New York City. Maya Lin is bringing an artist and activist perspective to this truly sad phenomenon. Ghost forests are a serious problem in many parts of the US and the world, but there are some ways to stop them.
Spreading awareness can stop the increase of ghost forests. The more people involved in educating the public, including our government, scientists, and artists, the higher chance that it will end. Acknowledging their existence and creating awareness, is a big step toward a solution. For instance, someone may not be aware of the impact recycling has on the environment and specifically, ghost forests, so instead of properly discarding the trash in a bin, they may litter thinking that it will not make a difference. However, once they are informed, they will throw their trash in the garbage. While this might seem like a minor contribution, if more and more people learn and start to throw their trash into the garbage, ghost forests will slowly start to stop forming.
While populations have a general sense of environmental damages, shining a light on the vast number of ghost forests, in particular, makes the destruction more concrete, and quantifies the damage to society. So, the more people know about the effect of littering and the more awareness, the less pollution there will be. More people will be aware and more people will finally see what an impact that one thing they dropped made on the environment. The objective is for us together to change the future of our earth, starting with ghost forests, and the challenge is to effectively communicate this to communities.
One of two important steps to stopping ghost forests is to stop pollution; the second directly addresses a resolution to stop the spreading. Pollution is a major cause of rising waters. Specifically manufacturing pollution from factories.
Factories negatively impact the environment through air pollutant emissions, toxic waste disposal, and water contamination. Besides, they’re also the major offenders when it comes to greenhouse gas contributions. Factories alone are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the emissions to blame for global climate change (Harveston, 2017).
As a human race, we can collectively stop much of the manufacturing that’s non-ecologically friendly to the planet. Specifically, manufacturers need to look to clean energy and abolish coal and natural gas. Steam from factories is going into the atmosphere and causing it to thin. Since the atmosphere is thinning, more light is being let in from the sun. The extra light from the sun is melting ice and therefore causing ocean water to rise. “Sea level rise driven by climate change is making wetlands wetter in many parts of the world. It's also making them saltier” (Ury, 2021). So, the only thing we can do to reverse this is to stop, evaluate and put in place a model that works for the environment.
A Rutgers University research detailed specific steps that could help coastal areas and cut the increase in ghost forests. The research specifically outlines generating coastlines that can block the intrusion of seawater onto lowland areas.
To mitigate ghost forests, coastal forests need protection from development, and proper planning and collaboration with landowners must be established, according to the Rutgers report. Solutions the researchers suggest include creating living shorelines by planting trees to slow erosion, depositing sediments to help marshes move to higher elevation as sea levels rise, and planting forest vegetation that can tolerate changes in soil (Camillo, 2021).
Other preventive measures include controlling forest fires and wildfires as they are fuel and stimulants to this grave problem. “‘Drought is predicted to become more frequent as the climate warms,’ Dr. Taillie said. That means wildfires, combined with intensified dry spells and amplified saltwater intrusion may, together, accelerate the formation of ghost forests independently of sea level rise” (Velasquez-Manoff, 2019). Lastly, the Rutgers report suggests the potential use of high-tech engineering systems, RTE and CRT for alteration of ditches and dikes. “The possible use of engineered structures such as RTE and CRT systems requires more research but remains an option” (Sacatelli et al, 2020).
As one of the most effective communication tools, art can draw attention to ghost forests simply with its visual impact. “‘They are evocative, very visible signs of climate change,’ Gedan said. ‘In some ways a scientific paper just can’t capture the spooky feeling you get when you are out in the marshes surrounded by all these dead trees’” (Gedan, 2020). The Maya Lin Ghost Forest installation in New York City allows the thousands of daily visitors to experience the devastation of walking through a ghost forest, and not simply read about it. The artist, using art as a social language, speaks in a way that the public can understand, with visuals rather than with words. With access to so many people, art spreads awareness to the public in new and informative ways. However, the installation not only spreads awareness but directly contributes to solving the problem. “A series of public programs focused on nature-based solutions to climate change, including planting 1,000 trees and shrubs in collaboration with Natural Areas Conservancy, are planned throughout the run of the exhibition” (Madison Square Park Conservancy, 2021). Young and old, different races and ethnicities can understand the problem through the installation, so everyone can work together toward a solution. Additionally, protective protocols for rising sea levels and ghost forests have been put into place in various coastal communities.
Managed retreat is being discussed more and more in coastal management circles, and it can mean many things, but in essence, it is about moving infrastructure, etc. away from the coastal margin and allowing more natural defenses to establish (think dunes, wetlands, and intertidal flats, etc.) to provide a buffer to future hazards and threats (Morgan, 2018).
Many people did not know ghost forests were a problem before Maya Lin’s installation.
The only thing I really want to do is bring a ghost forest to downtown Manhattan. It’s forests around the world dying off because of climate change… These natural beings that we’ve helped kill off, they’re there to remind us of what nature can be, could be, there is something I hope people are moved enough by, to want to volunteer to help stop what’s going on around the planet because of us. We could do it tomorrow. We could do this today (Lin, 2021).
The installation is a stark artistic reminder of how destructive we are as a race. From an environmental perspective, it is telling us we need to stop polluting, or more ghost forests will appear. The hope is that after experiencing the installation, people will change their lifestyle so that these ghost forests will not form, more animals will not have to lose their homes, and more of the earth can be green and suitable for more plants and animals.
Ghost forests are increasing as a result of our developing technology. The disappearance of forests on our coastal shoreline is devastating, however, there are ways to stop them. We can spread awareness. With the help of the government, scientists, and activists, the general population can learn about this tragic phenomenon and curb its contribution to pollution. Another measure is a creative approach to educating the public through art, Maya Lin’s installation, Ghost Forest, is a perfect example. Community intervention with protection acts, and action plans to restore our shorelines is a strong step toward a solution. Of course, there are many other things that we need to do to stop the spread of ghost forests. These measures can help solve the problem, but we have to work together. All of these steps need teamwork and a team effort.
Camillo, E. (2021). ‘Ghost Forests’ May Become More Common as Sea Levels Rise. Smithsonian Magazine. March, 19.
Gedan, K. (2020). Ghosts of the Coast: Artists and Scientists Bring ‘Ghost Forests’ to Life. Columbian College of Arts and Science. November, 11.
Harveston, K. (2017). Environmental Impacts of Factories and How They Can Improve. Greentumble. October, 10.
Lin, M. (2021). “Ghost Forest” Documentary. Madison Square Park Conservancy. May, 10.
Madison Square Park Conservancy. (2021). Maya Lin: Ghost Forest Exhibition Press Release. May, 10. Morgan, S. (2018). Adaptive planning for coastal line climate change. Landscape Architecture Aotearoa. September, 7.
NOAA. (2021). What is a ghost forest?. February, 26.
Sacatelli, R., Lathrop, R., & Kaplan, M. B. (2020). Impacts of climate change on coastal forests in the northeast US. Rutgers University. October.
Ury. E. (2021). Sea-level rise is creating ‘ghost forest’ on an American coast. The Guardian. April, 8.
Velasquez-Manoff, M., Demczuk, G. (2019). As Sea Levels Rise, So Do Ghost forests. The New York Times. October, 8.