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What is a Mangrove?

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Mangrove trees showing underwater root system. NOAA OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP).

Mangrove trees showing underwater root system.

NOAA OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)

Background:

The term “mangrove” is used to refer to a habitat comprised of a number of halophytic (salt-tolerant) plant species, of which there are more than 12 families and 50 species worldwide. Mangroves grow in intertidal or estuarine areas. They are found in warmer areas between the latitudes of 32 degrees north and 38 degrees south, along the tropical and subtropical coasts of Africa, Australia, Asia and North and South America. In the U.S., mangroves are commonly found in Florida.

Mangrove plants have a tangle of roots which are often exposed above water, leading to the nickname “walking trees.” The roots of mangrove plants are adapted to filter salt water, and their leaves can excrete salt, allowing them to survive where other land plants cannot.

Marine Life in Mangroves:

Mangroves are an important habitat, providing food, shelter and nursery areas for fish, birds, crustaceans and other marine life. They also provide a source of livelihood for many humans around the world, including wood for fuel, charcoal and timber and areas for fishing. Mangroves also form a buffer that defends coastlines from flooding and erosion.

Many types of marine and terrestrial life utilize mangroves. Animals inhabit the mangrove’s leafy canopy and waters underneath the mangrove’s root system, and live in nearby tidal waters and mudflats. In the U.S., species found in mangroves include reptiles such as the American crocodile and American alligator; sea turtles including the hawksbill, Ridley, green and loggerhead; fish such as snapper, tarpon, jack, sheepshead, and red drum; crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs; and coastal and migratory birds such as pelicans, spoonbills and bald eagles.

Threats to Mangroves:

  • Natural threats to mangroves include hurricanes, root clogging from increased water turbidity, and damage from boring organisms and parasites.
  • Human impacts on mangroves have been severe in some places, and include dredging, filling, diking, oil spills, and runoff of human waste and herbicides. Some coastal development results in total loss of habitat.

Conservation of mangroves is important for the survival of mangrove species, humans and also for the survival of two other habitats – coral reefs and seagrass beds.

Sources:

  • Law, Beverly E. and Nancy P. Arny. “Mangroves-Florida’s Coastal Trees”. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved online October 17, 2008 (as of August 2010, document appears to no longer be online).
  • Mangrove Action Project. 2008. ”Learn About Mangroves” (Online). Mangrove Action Project. Retrieved October 17, 2008.
  • Newfound Harbor Marine Institute. 1998. ”Mangroves” (Online). Newfound Harbor Marine Institute. Retrieved October 17, 2008.
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