Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What exactly is a mangrove?

One of the highlights of my upcoming Costa Rica trip is a boat tour through the Pacific mangrove swamp. Here we will hope to see many of the birds that call the mangroves home such as Mangrove Hummingbird (a Costa Rican endemic), Mangrove Warbler (a subspecies of Yellow Warbler), Mangrove Cuckoo, and Mangrove Black-hawk. Thinking about this trip got me thinking about mangroves. I have a mental image of a mangrove swamp, but I don't think I've ever actually visited one. What exactly is a mangrove?

Mangrove swamps are found along tropical seacoasts on both sides of the equator. They are named for the Mangrove trees that grow there. Mangrove swamps, to most people, look like muddy, swampy places filled with mosquitoes, snakes and other critters. In fact, they provide vital habitat for nesting and migratory birds, as well as many species of mammal, reptile, and amphibian.

Mangrove trees stand in mud on roots that look like stilts above the water. These roots provide support against the ocean's strong waves and tides. Small rootlets grow up out from the main root and feed on the rich soil just below the mud's surface. A third set of roots collects oxygen for the plant.

Mangrove swamps produce tons of rich organic detritus each day, off of which bacteria, molds, tiny crustaceans, and larval shrimps and fishes feed. A single acre of red mangrove sheds more than three tons of leaves each year. It is crucial to the swamp's survival that the daily flushing and replenishment of the tides occur. (Source)

Mangrove swamps offer a great benefit to the environment. They protect the coastline by acting as wave breaks. They stabilize coastlines and serve as natural barriers against torrential storms. In this way, they preserve the coastline and prevent shoreline erosion. They also trap debris, sediments, excess nutrients and toxicants through their natural filtering processes. This improves the water quality of tidal rivers that drain through mangroves. Finally, they act as wind breaks which reduce the force of winds that may destroy and damage property.

I'm looking forward to visiting the mangrove swamps of Costa Rica and seeing the mangrove trees. I also look forward to the birds and other creatures that live ther.


Susan said...

Wetlands are my favorite habitat, and I love finding and visiting outlying representatives (usually northernmost!- btw, I've visited both northern edges of cypress swamp habitat, in Delaware and in Indiana) So, I discovered via wikipedia that there are indeed mangrove swamps in the US, confined to Florida: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_mangroves

Patrick Belardo said...

Yep, Florida is the place to be in the US for mangroves. I'd love to get down there sometime to see them. It's the only place to see Mangrove Cuckoo in the US, among some other great birds like Snail Kite and Limpkin.