The Ten Thousand Islands are home to a wide-ranging array of dense mangrove forests. Whether you’re boating, kayaking, paddle boarding or even flying over the islands, you can’t miss these tangled trees. If you’re driving around Everglades City you can also find them on the Barron River, between the locals’ docks or even on the side of the road.
Mangroves truly flourish in salty environments since they are able to acquire freshwater from the saltwater. When doing this, some mangroves discharge the excess salt obtained through their leaves, while other mangroves will at their roots begin to block the salt as it’s absorbing the water. Just in Florida, it is estimated that there are 469,000 acres of mangroves that help with the overall health of Florida’s southern coastline zone. These trees help the ecosystem by trapping and cycling-through numerous organic materials, essential nutrients and chemical elements. The roots of a mangrove aren’t just physical traps, they also provide sturdy surfaces for many marine creatures to attach themselves so they can filter the water throughout their bodies, cycling and trapping nutrients.
It is not possible to exaggerate the relationship between marine life and mangroves. The mangroves provide protection for fish, shellfish and crustaceans that can be used as nursery regions. Multiple marine species, such as snook, jack, red drum, shrimp and sheepshead, spend their time near mangroves for their food source. If there were no healthy mangrove forests, especially in the Ten Thousand Islands, Florida’s recreational as well as commercial fisheries would decline significantly. Not only do mangroves provide marine life protection, animals like raccoons and coastal birds like roseate spoonbills and brown pelicans use the roots or branches for shelter, rookeries and areas for nesting. In the Ten Thousand Islands around sunset you can watch the birds fly to their rookeries in the mangroves, and it is such a beautiful sight. Their feathered bodies among the mangrove’s silhouettes against the fire red, pink and blue sky creates a view like no other.
There are three mangrove species found in the state of Florida and more than 50 species worldwide. The most well-known of the three is the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) that grows along the edge of the water. This mangrove is very easy to identify just by looking at its “prop-roots,” which are a reddish color. The red mangrove is often referred to as “walking trees” since the roots make the trees look as if they are walking or standing on the water’s surface. The second species of mangroves in Florida are black mangroves (Avicennia germinans), which can be found on elevations upland that are slightly higher than red mangroves. These black mangroves are identified by numerous projections called pneumatophores, which protrude out of the soil around the trunk of the tree and look almost finger-like. The last of the three mangrove species in Florida is the white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa). These mangroves will occupy the highest elevations that are farther upland than both the black and red mangroves. White mangroves root systems aren’t aerial or visible, but an easy way to identify one is by looking at their leaves. The white mangroves leaves have an oval shape and are a light yellow-green color with noticeable glands located at the base of the leaf where the stem begins.
Each of these mangroves utilize an interesting method when it comes to reproduction. While still being attached to the trees, their seeds will sprout and then drop to the base of the trees or they will drop in the water where they will be moved by the tides and currents to other appropriate locations. Since Florida’s three mangroves are a tropical species, they are sensitive when it comes to subfreezing or extreme temperature fluctuations. Soil, tidal fluctuations, temperature of the water and salinity will also affect mangroves when it comes to their growth and distribution. It is very frequent that all three of these mangroves will grow intermixed with each other.
As for the coast of Florida, mangroves help to protect the land from floods, waves and winds produced by storms as well as reduce erosion. It is no mystery that hurricanes have heavily destroyed the mangroves of the Ten Thousand Islands, especially referring to Hurricane Irma. After Irma hit the Ten Thousand Islands, Everglades City and Chokoloskee at a Category 4, although our towns were heavily damaged, it would have been much worse without the help of the mighty mangroves that stood their ground in the hurricanes path. If you would have caught a glimpse of the mangroves after Irma, you would’ve seen nothing more than ghostly, gray and bare skeletons of what used to be bright-green, fully flourished mangrove forests. As of 2019 the mangrove forests in the Ten Thousand Islands are growing back stronger than ever. Many already fully flourished while others are still growing. But even while growing back they are still thriving and providing.
University of Florida student Savannah Oglesby has lived in Everglades City her entire life. A lover of nature; some of her favorite things are sunsets, night lightning and mountains. She enjoys adventures and spending time with family, friends and two orange tabby cats. She also enjoys travelling, taking photos of nature, learning about extreme weather and seeing the world in different perspectives. Savannah’s love for Everglades City, and its history, is endless.