Red mangrove roots grow into salt and brackish water, creating complex habitats and anchoring sediment. (Photo Credit: Aaron Adams)
Mangrove Nurseries: Part 1
Mangrove forests cover much of Florida’s coastline, providing protection from storms, preventing erosion, and creating essential habitat for many different species of fish during their vulnerable juvenile stages, including snook and tarpon.
Worldwide there are more than 50 species of mangrove. In Florida, we are lucky to have three species that call our peninsula home. Mangroves are often found along coastal areas and in shallow flats, thriving in the salty water through adaptations that allow them to extract fresh water in various ways. In Florida, the red, black, and white mangroves can all be found along the coast, with white mangroves rooted higher up on land, red mangroves sitting almost fully submerged in deeper waters, and black mangroves growing in the shallow waters in between. While each species occupies its own specific habitat, each provides a number of benefits to their surrounding environment.
The red mangrove is easily recognized by its long, leg-like prop roots that anchor the plant into the sand or mud bottom and keep it stable as tides sweep water in and around the plant. These prop roots drop down from the plant as the leaves grow above the water, creating a complex network of anchors that not only keep the plant stable, but stabilize the soil as well. With the soil held firmly in place by the roots of the mangrove, the surrounding habitat is protected from erosion, and the coastline may even grow as the roots disrupt the water currents, which allows sediment to drop out of the water onto the bottom. When red mangroves grow in large clusters around coastlines, they can also act as a barrier against large waves, and even protect the land from storms and hurricanes.