When we went to South Lido Key Park, I got to see Mangrove tunnels for the first time. Growing up surrounded by woodland, I’ve always loved forests, and I’ve always had a fondness for marine life. Seeing the merging of the two in a unique ecosystem was fascinating, and I needed to learn more.
Over a third of the mangrove tunnels in existence have been destroyed between 1980 and today, and they continue to disappear due to human encroachment through things like coastal development and fish farming. The destruction of the environment in general is a significant issue, but what are mangroves exactly, and what makes them important?
Let’s take the mangrove forests at South Lido Key Park as an example. There, you can find three main species of mangrove trees: Red, Black and White. There are over 50 species throughout the world. These plants have adapted to the loose, wet, sandy soil of the coastline, and can thrive in salt water, unlike most plants. While that’s definitely an achievement, what’s even more impressive is the wide number of things that the forests provide. They are extremely important for being used as nurseries for young crustaceans and fish, where they can grow safe from predators. The mangroves also serve as shelter for other many inhabitants. They are a great place to find multiple species of birds, such as herons, ospreys and egrets, and in the water you could find Sea stars, urchins, crabs, stingrays, and a variety of other species. The mangroves are also a safe haven for manatees.
The mangroves provide important nutrients for the marine ecosystem surrounding them, as well as act as a barrier to hurricanes, flood water, and coastal erosion. And of course, they provide us with wood, fruit, medicine, seafood, and fibers. Most surprisingly, however, is how much they help with air quality. They can store as much as five times the amount of carbon that any other forests can – even tropical rainforests.
Mangroves have a lot to offer – but they’re disappearing. With effort and care we can conserve what we have left and help this unique ecosystem thrive.
Photo Credit: Catrina Miccicke