Mangrove roots rising up from the sea floor in Florida.
Mangroves are an important part of Florida's coastal natural infrastructure © Ralph Pace

Stories in Florida

The Importance of Mangroves

Protection from storms, nurseries for wildlife and recreation are among the benefits.

The Importance of Mangroves

Mangroves are important to people because they help stabilize Florida’s coastline ecosystem and prevent erosion. Mangroves also provide natural infrastructure and protection to nearby populated areas by preventing erosion and absorbing storm surge impacts during extreme weather events such as hurricanes.  

Mangroves are magical forests where we discover nature’s secrets. They straddle the connection between land and sea and nature and humans. Mangrove forests nurture our estuaries and fuel our nature-based economies.

Marine Conservation Manager, TNC Florida

Mangroves are important to the ecosystem too. Their dense roots help bind and build soils. Their above-ground roots slow down water flows and encourage sediment deposits that reduce coastal erosion. The complex mangrove root systems filter nitrates, phosphates and other pollutants from the water, improving the water quality flowing from rivers and streams into the estuarine and ocean environment.

Wave Tank Demonstration This wave tank model demonstrates the importance of mangroves in stopping wave action and protecting shorelines.

Mangrove forests capture massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and then trap and store them in their carbon-rich flooded soils for millennia. This is an important ecosystem service as we face climate change. This buried carbon is known as “blue carbon” because it is stored underwater in coastal ecosystems like mangrove forests, seagrass beds and salt marshes. 

A conch peeks out from the sea floor among mangrove roots.
Conch and other shellfish These important species call mangrove forests their home. © Ralph Pace

Mangrove forests also provides habitat and refuge to a wide array of wildlife such as birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals and plants. Estuarine habitats with coastal mangrove shorelines and tree roots are often important spawning and nursery territory for juvenile marine species including shrimp, crabs, and many sport and commercial fish species such as redfish, snook and tarpons. Branches of the mangroves act as bird rookeries and nesting areas for coastal wading birds including egrets, herons, cormorants and roseate spoonbills. In some areas, red mangrove roots are ideal for oysters, which can attach to the portion of the roots that hang into the water.  Endangered species such as the smalltooth sawfish, manatee, hawksbill sea turtle, Key Deer and the Florida panther rely on this habitat during some stage of their life cycle.

Two juvenile white ibis birds standing in a mangrove forest in Florida.
Wading Birds These juvenile white ibises find shelter, protection. and foraging opportunities in mangrove roots. © Ralph Pace

Mangrove forests provide nature experiences for people such as birding, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, and the therapeutic calm and relaxation that comes from enjoying peaceful time in nature. They also provide economic benefits to communities as a nursery for commercial fish stocks.

 

A kayaker glides smoothly over a mangrove forest in Florida.
Outdoor Recreation Mangrove forests provide important opportunities to connect people and nature. © Nick Hall

Threats to Mangrove Forests

Unfortunately, there are many challenges that place mangrove forests under threat. Human impact such as dredging, filling, water pollution from herbicides and development can lead to mangrove erosion and habitat destruction. When mangrove forests are cleared and destroyed, they release massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

An important part of our ongoing efforts to restore natural habitat at Blowing Rocks Preserve is the restoration of red mangroves to the shoreline. The importance of mangrove planting at our preserves cannot be understated, to help protect and restore this vital Florida treasure. TNC continues protection and restoration efforts of our important forests, from the Panhandle to the Keys, on behalf of people and nature.

The Benefits of Mangroves

We published a scientific study in partnership with University of California Santa Cruz and RMS quantifying the effectiveness of mangroves in reducing flood risk to people and property. The study finds that mangroves significantly reduce annual and catastrophic damages, and are a strong first line of defense for coastal communities.

The study, Valuing The Flood Risk Reduction Benefits of Florida’s Mangroves, led by a team of scientists from the engineering, insurance, and conservation sectors, concludes that mangroves in Florida prevented US $1.5 billion in direct flood damages and protected over half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, reducing damages by nearly 25% in counties with mangroves. With coastal challenges created by growing populations, burgeoning development, and climate change, risks to people and property from flooding and storm surge are on the rise. Mangroves provide valuable flood protection and risk reduction benefits to these coastal areas, and yet are a threatened species.

The findings make a compelling economic case for protecting and restoring mangroves as a risk reduction strategy. Studies like these are important to demonstrate the value of natural climate solutions to encourage investment in nature along our shorelines.

 

Demonstration of the benefits of mangroves to reduce coastal flooding.
Mangrove Benefits Surge is reduced behind mangroves, helping ease flooding to land and properties. © The Nature Conservancy

Types of Mangrove Trees in Florida

Mangroves are small trees that grow in salty water. Coastal mangrove forests are found in abundance on Florida’s shorelines. Over 50 species of mangroves are found throughout the world, three of which are native to Florida: red, black and white. Mangroves rise up through the saltwater in intertidal areas and the trees survive by filtering out the salt and sea water as it enters their roots.