Mangrove Forests

mangrove forests along the Yucatan coast
Mangrove forests are seen skirting the edge of the Caribbean Sea throughout the Riviera Maya, and these fascinating communities are the focus of July’s Interview with Sealife. Dominated by several species of peculiar trees or shrubs that can grow in salt water, Mangroves cover 60 to 75% of the earth’s tropical coastline. Those forests found in estuarine environments, or where fresh water and seawater meet and mix, are the largest in overall area. The bays and rivers of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve are an excellent example of enormous estuarine Mangroves.

The mix of terrestrial and marine inhabitants is the most unique quality of the Mangrove community. Due to the vertical growth of the trees, true terrestrial animals - such as birds, snakes, monkeys, rodents, and many more - occupy this upper level. The root system of these same trees extends down into the water providing an entire marine environment as well. Crabs, snails, oysters, and shrimps are among the most numerous permanent inhabitants; however, the calm, nutrient-rich waters of the Mangrove also serve as a nursery ground for juveniles many oceanic fish and invertebrates.

Perhaps the most important role a Mangrove forest plays is in the health and longevity of the world’s coral reefs. The substrate in the Mangroves is one of silt and mud, and the particles which create this mud are carried in the rivers, streams, and run-off of the Yucatan Peninsula. Acting as a large net, the Mangroves filter these particles out of the water as it passes through out to the open sea. This allows the Caribbean to remain silt free and nutrient poor – that is, it can keep it crystal clear appearance – and the coral can continue to exist.

Mangrove forests can provide hours of entertainment for the beginning to advanced snorkeler. From baby animals to larger fish feeding off the baby animals, there’s always something to see. I recommend trying Yal Ku Lagoon in Akumal for an outstanding estuarine Mangrove community – it is some of the prettiest snorkeling around!


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