Our mangrove forests often unappreciated, are not only instrumental in protecting our shores from the elements but also provide shelter to an incredible amount of wildlife.
A trip to the wilderness along most of the southern coast of the State is full of surprises, on land, on the air, on the water, and under the water, thanks to this unique habitat and the variety of life it supports.
Here we give you a brief introduction to this beautiful and crucial ecosystem, and the importance of its conservation.
Mangroves are quite unique plants, they are able to grow in salt water by filtering the salt either through their roots or their leaves. Mostly known as the "walking" plants because of the tall roots sticking out of the water, these plants are beneficial in many ways and an indispensable resource in South Florida.
Mangroves are tropical, they are sensitive to cold temperatures. In Florida, there are three species of mangrove:
Red Mangrove is the best-known. This is the kind with the tall arching roots sticking out of the water and the one found closest to the shore.
Black Mangrove grows further inland than Red Mangrove and the trunks are surrounded by roots that stick out of the soil and look like snorkels.
White Mangrove unlike the other ones, does not have aerial roots and grows furthest inland. You can recognize it by the more rounded leaves.
You often see all three species growing inter-mingled creating the mangrove forests that shelter our coasts and offer protection to a great variety of wildlife.
Mangroves serve many functions:
Mangroves protect our coasts from erosion from strong winds, waves and floods. Their intricate and strong root network reduce storm-surge damage and stabilizes the shoreline.
Mangrove roots serve as shelter and support for marine organisms like algae and oysters, which in turn serve to filter the water, keep it clear of pollutants and provide nutrients for fish and critters.
Mangrove branches serve as nesting areas for many shore birds and migratory birds which also depend on the mangroves for food and shelter. They are beautiful to watch atop the trees.
It all starts with the mangrove leaves that fall in the water and decompose, creating a rich nutrient environment for crabs, shrimp, small fish and many other marine species.
These small creatures, fish, crabs, etc. provide food for bigger fish, turtles and for the shore birds that also come to feed in the shallow waters.
These birds and fish in turn provide food for some small mammals, i.e. racoons, which then are hunted by the larger predators, like crocodiles and humans.
And so, the mangrove is the starting point to this food chain, benefiting many species along the way.
This brings us to the next section and our favorite part when visiting the mangroves, the mangrove animals, the shore birds, and the critters big and small you find in the shallows surrounding the mangroves and beyond.
Our Florida mangroves support a great variety of species, from the swamp animals roaming the wetlands, the shorebirds making their homes in the branches and taking refuge amongst the roots, and tons of marine species big and small that thrive along the mangrove coastline and muddy flats supported by the nutrient rich waters.
These links will bring you to some of the most often seen animals in this mangrove wilderness:
The swamp animals
Migrating and Shore Birds
Algae and Grasses
Luckily for our Miami visitors, the nature lovers, birdwatchers, outdoor enthusiasts, there are many places where you can enjoy this rich habitat:
Great chances to see shorebirds on the muddy flats or on tree branches and many of the marine life and big critters swimming around, like manatees and rays.
Where? These spots have canoe and kayak rentals available and many trails along the mangrove coast, long and short.
For the more sedate and if you don't want to get wet, then a stroll along one of the many trails and elevated boardwalks bring you close to the wildlife. We have seen many of the waterbirds along the shores, racoons and iguanas among the tree branches, manatees coming up for air...
Where? We really enjoy the nature trails and boardwalks at:
Where? Biking the nature trails with convenient rentals at:
The Mangrove Backcountry Tour at Everglades National Park is led by a ranger or naturalist, and besides learning about the wildlife in the mangroves, you also learn much about the different ecosystems in the park.
The intricate root network of the mangroves serve to host many marine organisms that cling to these props and take advantage of the nutrient rich waters to thrive.
Snorkeling close to the shore and the mangrove roots, although a rather murky experience, gives you a chance to see many little critters and marine life. Look beyond the roots, along the sandy bottom and the seagrass, and a bit further where you see plenty of fish darting about, and perhaps a ray gliding by...
Each experience will give you a different glimpse of what the mangrove wildernes is about, if you are visiting any of these parks, take the time to explore our beautiful mangrove coastline!
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