Melissa works on her journal at the Mangrove Inn, Bocas, Panama!
The mangroves location around coastal areas and in estuaries combined with their unique root systems has provided a habitat for a variety of organisms. Coastal birds such as pelicans, spoonbills, and osprey use the mangroves as a nesting site and the mangroves are home to many food sources for the birds (nhmi.org). In the waters around the mangrove roots, especially the prop roots of the red mangrove, a variety of juvenile game fish can be found. Algae and marine invertebrates such as sponges, corals, and anemone can be found attached to prop roots while clams, sea snails, shrimp, and other organisms use the mangroves for shelter and a feeding ground. The mangroves are the key to major food webs in the coastal community. Researchers in the 1960’s found that mangrove leaf litter is the basis for a food chain that links the entire coastal community (mangrove.org). Mangrove leaves that fall into the water are later consumed by fungi and other decomposers which are a source of food for various detritivors, such as snails and mollusks. These consumers are then eaten by secondary consumers such as small fish and crabs, and finally birds and game fish consume the smaller organisms (mangrove.org)
As crucial as mangroves are as a habitat and member of a food chain they are as equally important to the physical landscape of the coast. The root systems of the mangroves and their overall abundance are crucial to prevent erosion from waves by absorbing the impact of the waves and preventing the soil from being carried into the ocean. If the coast is eroded to much the surrounding waters could be subject to siltation which has damaging effects like the production of algae blooms. During hurricane season mangroves are vital to preserving the coast form even greater damage had the mangroves not been there to absorb the impact of the waves (Kuenzler). Without the mangroves protecting coastlines erosion would destroy the coast sweeping the soil into the ocean and later affecting the open waters.
Mangroves help to protect the coast and thus human settlements but they also have been utilized by humans in a variety of other ways. The trees themselves have been used as fuel, fire wood, timber, and even food. In coastal communities of previous centuries the mangroves were an essential source of timber for boats, homes, and other supplies (Macintosh).
The habitats the mangroves create have been utilized as fisheries, shrimp farms, and other forms of aquaculture (Macintosh). Some estimates say that 90% of commercial fish and 75% of game fish utilize the mangroves at some point in their lives (mangrove.org). Today sport and commercial fisherman rely on the preservation of mangroves to protect the quality of the fish in the open waters (Kuenzler). In more recent years mangrove swamps have been altered for the purposed of aquaculture such as shrimp farming. Shrimp farming can be devastating to the mangrove community because juvenile fish and invertebrates are displaced and pollution of the water increases (Macintosh). In the case of most aquacultural ventures making money is the main motivation and adverse environmental affects are not necessarily considered.
Other than exploiting the mangrove resources, mangrove forests have been completely cleared for urban development. Often mangroves are destroyed with out considering how essential they might be to the ecosystem. Human appraisals of mangrove forests have, in the past, resulted in the mangroves being considered equivalent to a wasteland (Kuenzler). In Florida and the Caribbean mangroves were first used by settlers for fuel and today mangrove habitat is cleared for urban development, specifically relating to beach front property and tourism (Macintosh). In Puerto Rico one-third of the original area occupied by mangroves has been destroyed as a result of development and other human actions (Kuenzler). Although the human impact on mangrove communities in Florida and the Caribbean is severe there is still a chance to preserve what is left. Further development of the coast must be prevented and legislative action is necessary to conserve the remaining mangrove environments.
Mangroves are a unique species of plant that are the scaffolding on which an entire ecosystem is built. The value of the mangroves to humans, to other organisms, and to the physical landscape of the coast can not be given a price tag. It is important to understand why the mangrove community is so important and to take steps to preserve what is left.
Dawes, Clinton. Katherine Siar & Donald Marlett. “Mangrove structure, litter and
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Kovacs, John Michael. “Assessing mangrove use at the local scale”. Landscape and
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Kuenzler, Edward J. “Mangrove Swamp Systems.” Coastal Ecological Systems of the
United States. 347-371. Editors: Odom, Copeland, and McMahon. The
Conservation Foundation 1974.
Macintosh, D. and S. Zisman. “The Status of Mangrove Ecosystems: Trends in the
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Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Marine Research Institute. http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/habitats/mangroves.htm
Mangrove Action Project. http://www.earthisland.org/map/mngec.htm
Mangrove Replenishment Inititive. www.mangrove.org
Mangroves. http://www.nhmi.org/mangroves/index.htm. .
“What Are Mangroves” Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Marine
Research. Pamphlet. P.O. Box F St. Petersburg, FL 337. 1985. http://darter.ocps.net/classroom/klenk/FT/manginf.html
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