The Importance of Mangroves
Protection from storms, nurseries for wildlife and recreation are among the benefits.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.