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Mangroves in Belize are important to Belize. Mangroves are tropical flowering trees or shrubs that have the common trait of growing in shallow and muddy salt or brackish water, especially along the shore or in estuaries.
According to Kennedy Warner of National Geographic, mangroves live life on the edge since they are in the intertidal zone between land and sea; where they live in desiccating heat, choking mud and high salt levels.
“At the intersection of land and sea, mangrove forests are said to be among the most productive and biologically complex organisms that support a variety of life including many flora and fauna for sheltering as well as feeding. Since it supports a wealth of life, from starfish to people, mangrove forests may be more important to the health of the planet than we ever realized” (Kennedy Warner- National Geographic).
Mangroves are said to have originated in Southeast Asia and found all over the world, however; they are most commonly found within 30 degrees of the equator in tropical climates where their size vary from shrubs to 200 feet timber trees.
In addition; mangroves are common for their ability to adapt quickly since they are composed of an ultrafiltration system that aids them in keeping much of the salt out and the complex root system that mangroves have allow it to survive in the intertidal zone.
Mangroves are further composed of an additional snorkel-like root system called pneumatophores that stick out of the mud which aid in breathing (Kennedy Warner- National Geographic). The seeds of mangroves are uncommon since they germinate while still on the tree and they plant themselves in the mud as they fall.
There are about 70 species from two dozen families of mangroves however; the most common types are the red, black and white mangroves. In Belize these three are the most common species found nevertheless buttonwood is also found but it is not as common.
According to Marshall R Crosby, Red mangrove belongs to the family Rhizophoraceae and is classified as Rhizophora mangle, the white mangrove and buttonwood belong to the family Combretaceae and the black mangrove belongs to the family Verbenaceae and is classified as Avicennia germinans.
Red Mangrove can be easily classified in a mangrove forest in that it grows along the coast. They are found more toward the water, have more prop roots, their trees are in most cases the shortest and their leaves are broader.
Black mangroves are found more inland than red mangroves and the bark of the trees are stripped with black; these trees are the tallest and most upright of the three kinds of mangroves.
White mangroves are the farthest inland, their trees are taller than the red mangrove but shorter than the black mangrove and their stems grow in an angular form, not quite upright.
Mangroves may not seem important, yet; they play a very significant role in the environment from sheltering tiny creatures to saving human life, nevertheless; they are threatened everyday worldwide. The roots of mangroves prevent the sediments from coursing out to the sea.
In addition the intertwinement of mangrove roots diminishes the flow of water which in turn produces a quiet suitable marine environment for young organisms thus, producing a breeding habitat for species such as fish (Heidi Nepf).
Furthermore; mangrove forests shelter many animals which include birds, frogs, snakes and crocodiles as well as burrowing crabs, mud lobsters, snails and shrimp that use the muddy bottom as their home.
Due to the root system that mangroves have and the location they inhabit, they serve as a great barrier of protection to human life as well as animal life. Mangroves help to prevent soil erosion along the coast and also serve as a barrier of protection to natural disasters such as hurricanes since they help to reduce the hurricane force and speed. In fact,
“calls for mangrove conservation gained a brief but significant hearing following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Where mangrove forests were intact, they served as natural breakwaters, dissipating the energy of the waves, mitigating property damage, perhaps saving lives” (Kennedy Warner of National Geographic).
Despite their significant importance, mangroves are threatened every day by human activities as well as by natural disasters. Human activity is perhaps the biggest threat to mangroves since the population expands every day, causing an increase demand that must be supplied in some way or another hence, placing our natural resources such as mangroves at risk.
Dredging for economic development and recreational facilities such as hotels, golf courses, port facilities, resorts and building of roads are major human activities that threaten our mangrove forests especially in Belize, where the economy relies heavily on the tourism industry.
Besides; mangrove forests are cleared and replaced by industries such as shrimp farms and aquaculture ponds that sometimes only last for three to five years.
Furthermore; irresponsible activities such as oil spills and chemical pollution may contribute to the death of mangroves as well as natural phenomena such as hurricanes, tsunamis sediment overload, and climate change. In many countries mangroves are deforested to be exploited as a source of charcoal and tannins, which are used in preparing leather.
Due to its importance in the environment, restoration and conservation efforts have been developed so as to protect mangroves from being disturbed. Bangladesh for example, putting a great value on the ability of mangroves to stabilize shores and stop runoff of sediments, has planted mangroves on sediments washed down by the Himalaya.
By this they have gained about 300,000 acres of new land on the bay of Bengal where the beautiful woodland they form is called Sundarbans (Kennedy Warner). In Addition, by planting mangroves it has gained recognition because “Sundarbans today is considered to be the largest surviving single tract of forest in the world” (Kennedy Warner).
In Belize, there have been many efforts to stop the clearing of mangroves and encourage their conservation however; it has been a bit challenging since there is a high development demand.
The tourism industry for example, has a great demand in order to attract tourist to come to Belize. Additionally; it allocates a great portion to the economic growth of the country; nevertheless; these challenges are not impossible, all it takes is everyone’s contribution and the result would be beneficial to everyone.
Considering that Belize has the second world’s largest Barrier Reef and the importance that mangroves play in maintaining marine ecosystems; they should continue to be protected. Failure to do so may result in the removal of the Belize Barrier Reef from the UNESCO World Heritage Site list; as it is already in the danger list.
Furthermore; it would cause vast disruptions in the ecosystems and would leave the coast more prone to erosion and hurricane destruction. Therefore; it is the responsibility of every Belizean and tourists to work hand in hand so as to protect these beautiful and important plants as well as all the other resources.
I invite you to read more of my articles on sustainability in Belize in the Education section of EscapeartistBelize.com
Glendy Yojana Delcid
Glendy resides in San Ignacio Town, Cayo District with her parents and siblings. She was born in the beautiful village of Black Man Eddy, Cayo District where she lived for five years.
Glendy is excited to be able author articles and educate interested readers on the importance of environmental sustainability concerning our beautiful country of Belize. Escapeartist Belize is glad to have Glendy as our environmental contributor.
Look for her articles in our Education in Belize section. For more on who Glendy is have a look at Glendy’s author page.
Crosby Marshall R. Mangrove. Microsoft Student Encarta 2009 (DVD). Redmond, WA:
Microsoft Corporation, 2008. Retrieved January 5, 2012.
Nepf, Heidi. Seashore. Microsoft Student Encarta 2009 (DVD). Redmond, WA: Microsoft
Corporation, 2008. Retrieved January 5 2012.
Warner Kennedy. Mangrove Forests. National Geographic. Retrieved January 8, 2012 from