Biscayne National Park


In Biscayne, the mainland mangrove shoreline has been preserved almost unbroken. For many years these trees of tropical and subtropical coasts were considered almost worthless. Some were cut down for timber and others were used to make charcoal. As recently as the 1960's the mangrove wilderness was referred to as "a form of wasteland." Like thousands of other wetlands, it was cleared or filled to make way for harbors and expanding cities.

Now we understand that the mangroves are vital to the well being of the park and surrounding area. Without them, there will be fewer fish for fishermen and fewer birds for birders. Biscayne Bay would become murky. And the area's islands would be exposed to the full force of hurricanes.

Beyond the darkness it is hard to see what lives in brackish waters of mangrove swamps; this water is stained brown by tannins from trees. Hidden among the maze of roots is a nursery for all sorts of commercial, sport, and reel fish. Here the young find not only shelter but also food. Fallen mangrove leaves feed bacteria and other microorganisms, and so begins a food web that supports not only the marine animals of the mangrove but also visitors like barracudas and birds that nest and roost in the treetops.

Defending the Coast
The mangrove forest appears as a nearly impenetrable fortress. Perhaps a snake or mosquito can move through easily, but little else can. It makes an effective protective buffer between the mainland and Biscayne Bay. It guards the bay from being dirtied by eroded soil and pollutants washing from the land by trapping them in its tangle of roots. The mangroves also stand as a natural line of defense against the strong wind and waves of hurricanes.

Mangroves have been called "freaks" of nature, and a close took reveals why. Roots of the red mangrove arch stilt-like out of the water or grow down into the water from overhead branches. The roots of the black mangrove look like hundreds of cigars planted in the mud: They are breathing organs necessary for survival in this water logged environment.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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