As you cruise around the beautiful Indian River Lagoon, you’re likely to notice that there are many mangroves lining the shores of our waterways. Mangrove marshes are present in many areas of the Indian River Lagoon and provide a vital service to our beloved estuary. Read on to learn why mangroves are considered a keystone species… that is, a plant or animal whose existence is essential to the other species in its ecosystem.
What Are Mangroves?
Mangroves are a type of shrub that grow in and near shallow, brackish waters. There are three different types of mangroves plants native to Florida: Red (Rhizophora mangle), Black (Avicennia germinans), and White (Laguncularia racemosa) Mangroves. However, a mangrove is more of a habitat than it is “just a plant”. Mangrove trunks are comprised of thick, interlacing roots that reach into the muddy waters of the lagoon and other local waterways. These distinctive roots are known as prop roots, and are home to many fish, birds, and reptiles that call the Indian River Lagoon their home. These plants are unique because they use their roots and leaves to remove salt from the coastal waters, and can survive being flooded multiple times each day when the tide ebbs and flows, all while surviving in the sweltering Florida sun. That’s a tough plant!
Why Mangroves Are So Important to the Ecosystem
Mangroves are the “protectors” of the Indian River Lagoon and its residents in many ways. Their tangled roots provide shelter for small fish and wildlife from predators. The mass slows the flow of water, which makes them perfectly calm nurseries for fish and water dwelling birds, and helps to bolster populations of local fish. Because this area is such a safe haven, it is also a prime spot to snack for other residents of the lagoon. Fish and birds feast on the bugs, smaller fish, and vegetation that entwines with mangrove marshes, and fishermen seek certain species within or along the mangrove marshes where they tend to congregate, like sheepshead and grouper.
Mangroves are important for the earth as well. The system of roots reinforces the coastlines by slowing the lagoon’s flow, allowing sediment to build up while preventing erosion from currents, waves, tides, and especially storm surges. Without mangroves, there is no telling what the Indian River Lagoon would look like, much less the whole coast of Florida: these intricate ecosystems make up most of the State’s intercoastal waterways, and years of human activity and boating would have a much more pronounced effect without the protection provided by mangrove marshes.
Protecting Mangrove Marshes
It’s all of our duty to protect our waterways and make sure we do everything we can to prevent any harm from befalling the protectors of the Lagoon. By being aware of the important role mangroves play in the ecosystem of the Indian River Lagoon, you are already well on your way to helping keep the population healthy. When you are cruising around on one of the 321 Boat fleet, make sure to watch for them. If you are ever near mangroves, you will be near land, so at the risk of damaging yourself, the mangroves, and the boat, steer clear. However, bringing a set of binoculars on your trip can help you see egrets, herons, and many other beautiful birds up close without getting too close.
It’s also interesting to know that once mangroves are damaged or removed, it’s almost impossible to re-establish them. This is because the short-term changes to the coastline and sediment can be so extreme that mangroves won’t regrow in the same spot after due to change to their environment. Human efforts to grow mangrove seedlings and transplant them have been disappointing in their success rates, making it even more essential to prevent the destruction of established trees in the first place to avoid the need to replace them.
The biggest threat to mangroves is pollution. Garbage that gets tangled in the roots poses a threat to the wildlife that calls these shrubs home, in addition to the mangroves themselves. Make sure that you bring back out all the waste that you bring in when you schedule your boat excursion, as you’re unlikely to find garbage cans before returning to the shore. The pollutants that find their way into the lagoon from rotting trash, overfertilized lawns, roadways, and leaking boats can also kill off a mangrove population. Make sure that if you do fertilize your lawn that you do so properly and during the correct season!
It’s also vital to do your best to make sure that your own vehicles are free of leaks and running smoothly. As for our fleet, you’ll never have to worry about our boats: one of the perks of boating with 321 is that we fully maintain and service all of our boats to ensure they are safe to drive, in addition to being safe for the health of the Indian River Lagoon. We’ll also gas up the boat for you, and it can be all too easy to spill fuel overboard if you’re not used to doing so, costing you money and harming the waterways.