Still mornings are the perfect time to get out your paddle board or kayak and hit the water for a paddle through the wetlands. Without the noise of a motor in the equation you can truly appreciate the serenity and calmness the wetlands have to offer, the only noise besides the dip of the paddle in the water might be the calling of a bird or the occasional breath of a turtle popping up nearby. Along the shore one type of tree begins to become very abundant.
Mangroves are a salt tolerant tree that grows in shallow salt water in creeks and along the coasts of The Bahamas. There are four types of mangroves – red, black, white and buttonwood. Red mangroves live closest to the water and have adapted to living in the salty conditions. Their prop roots hang down into the water to anchor the tree. Black mangroves are found slightly higher in the intertidal zone and can be easily identified by their pneumatophores, black sticklike roots which stick up from the mud to help gather oxygen for the plant.
White mangroves colonize the upper reaches of the tide. They are recognized for their succulent yellow-green leaves which have salt secretion glands. The last type of mangrove is the buttonwood and got its name from the appearance of the brown rounded clusters of flower heads. They live in dry salty areas and are the least salt-tolerant of the mangroves. Most Bahamians identify them by their velvety leaves and small flowers.
Mangroves are rich in life providing a nursery to over 100 different species of baby scale fish, crustaceans and snails which seek shelter below the roots. Do you recognize any of these species? Nassau grouper, grunts, bonefish, tarpon, snapper, barracuda, sharks, crawfish and conch are just a few of the juveniles that hide here from the dangers of the open ocean until they have matured. All four sea turtle species in The Bahamas can be found in mangrove habitats.
Over 60% of the world’s shorelines were once lined with mangroves, but this number has been greatly reduced due to coastal development and erosion. Sadly here in The Bahamas mangrove wetlands are not protected by the law and most people do not realize the impact they are having by damaging this important ecosystem through dredging, pollution and alteration of natural water flow.
A healthy mangrove system is in direct relation to a healthy coral reef. Interwoven roots provide a barrier of protection against erosion and trap harmful pollutants that could potentially suffocate coral reefs. Fallen leaves decay and become nutrient rich detritus, which provides food for small fish and crustaceans, which in turn attract larger fish and birds and up and up the food chain to the fish that live on the coral reefs and deeper ocean. Help protect our mangroves for the future of The Bahamas!