Man putting mangroves at risk
After I got back from my trip to the Bahamas, I had a reader whose son was also on my son’s Semester at Sea trip write in and suggest that I do a column on the importance of mangroves.
I did a series on my travels and my bonefishing trip, and mentioned that we fished near mangrove trees along the water’s edge at high tide on the flats. However, I was not able to discuss it at that time.
The ecological importance of these trees cannot be stressed enough. Mangrove trees are an indigenous species to Florida and other regions such as the Bahamas, and they are a major contributor to the marine environment. The mangrove tree is a halophyte, a plant that thrives in salty conditions. It can grow where no other tree can, which makes it a valuable contributor to the environment.
It covers the coastal shorelines and wetlands and provides many diverse species of birds, mammals, crustacean and fish with a unique, irreplaceable habitat. Mangroves preserve water quality and reduce pollution by filtering suspended material and assimilating dissolved nutrients.
The tree is the foundation of a complex marine food chain and the detrital food cycle. In the detrital food cycle, mangrove leaves drop into the tidal waters and they are colonized within a few hours by marine fungi and bacteria that convert difficult-to-digest carbon compounds into nitrogen-rich detritus material. The resulting pieces covered with microorganisms become food for the smallest animals such as worms, snails, shrimp, mollusks, mussels, barnacles, clams, oysters and the larger commercially important striped mullet. These detritus eaters are food for carnivores like crabs, fish and birds that follow the food chain.
Many species that depend on the existence of thriving mangroves are endangered or threatened. It is estimated that 75 percent of the game fish and 90 percent of the commercial species in south Florida rely on the mangrove system. Their value has been quantitatively documented.
Mangroves have disappeared for a number of reasons.
A natural disaster such as a hurricane can do tremendous damage to the mangrove system, but nature has a tendency to recover from such events. It has been man and his development along the coastal shoreline that has significantly reduced the number of mangroves and has had dire consequences on the food chain.
Land reclamation and bulkheading of waterfront property for development have been the two main issues. Large concentrations of mangroves were also isolated from lagoon waters in the 1950s by the construction of dikes that established impounds for mosquito control. The dikes prevent the free flow of water and movement of organisms between the mangroves and intracoastal waters denying the marine ecology the full benefit of mangrove wetlands.
Escalating pressure on mangrove population and increasing quantities of pollutants reaching coastal and intracoastal waters has brought new interest to the importance of mangroves to a healthy marine ecology.
Mangroves help mitigate the environmentally adverse effects of development and pollution. A healthy fishery relies heavily on a healthy and plentiful mangrove population.
Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.
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