Mangroves, the only woody halophytes living at the confluence of land and sea, have been heavily used traditionally for food, timber, fuel and medicine, and presently occupy about 181 000 km2 of tropical and subtropical coastline. Over the past 50 years, approximately one-third of the world's mangrove forests have been lost, but most data show very variable loss rates and there is considerable margin of error in most estimates. Mangroves are a valuable ecological and economic resource, being important nursery grounds and breeding sites for birds, fish, crustaceans, shellfish, reptiles and mammals; a renewable source of wood; accumulation sites for sediment, contaminants, carbon and nutrients; and offer protection against coastal erosion. The destruction of mangroves is usually positively related to human population density. Major reasons for destruction are urban development, aquaculture, mining and overexploitation for timber, fish, crustaceans and shellfish. Over the next 25 years, unrestricted clear felling, aquaculture, and overexploitation of fisheries will be the greatest threats, with lesser problems being alteration of hydrology, pollution and global warming. Loss of biodiversity is, and will continue to be, a severe problem as even pristine mangroves are species-poor compared with other tropical ecosystems. The future is not entirely bleak. The number of rehabilitation and restoration projects is increasing worldwide with some countries showing increases in mangrove area. The intensity of coastal aquaculture appears to have levelled off in some parts of the world. Some commercial projects and economic models indicate that mangroves can be used as a sustainable resource, especially for wood. The brightest note is that the rate of population growth is projected to slow during the next 50 years, with a gradual decline thereafter to the end of the century. Mangrove forests will continue to be exploited at current rates to 2025, unless they are seen as a valuable resource to be managed on a sustainable basis. After 2025, the future of mangroves will depend on technological and ecological advances in multi-species silviculture, genetics, and forestry modelling, but the greatest hope for their future is for a reduction in human population growth.