Tarpon, as well as bonefish and permit, require many different types of habitat throughout their life cycle. As juveniles, coastal mangrove systems and backwater creeks are most important for a tarpon’s first years of development. Mangrove systems create a tangled web of roots in shallow waters, physically preventing predators from entering and creating a safe haven for small fish, full of crabs and shrimp for food. These habitats act as nurseries, and unlike adults, juveniles cannot move to other habitats if these mangrove communities are destroyed or degraded. Because tarpon spend years in these habitats, declines we see in tarpon populations today likely reflect loss of habitat that occurred in the past.
Unfortunately, mangroves are under threat worldwide: globally, approximately 35% of mangroves have been lost, and continue to be lost at a rate of 2% per year; in Florida, approximately 50% of mangroves have already been lost, and degradation of these habitats continues. Since the amount of available habitat is one of the most important factors in determining fish population size, the loss of these critical habitats has direct and immediate effects on tarpon and the fisheries they support: less habitat = fewer fish.