Sunday, August 21, 2011

Los Manglares

I'm sorry.  I just had to use the Spanish word for mangroves...."Los Manglares".  It's fun for me to say over and over.  Let's just say this word is one of my favorites from my list of Spanish words that are much more interesting than their English counterparts:)  Say these words...."pantuflas"(pahn-two-flas) or "bufandas"(boo-fa-n-daas).  You see?  It's much more fun than saying "slippers" or "scarves".  Well, if you haven't guessed by the title today, it's all about mangroves.  This very important plant was all around us during our visits to the national park system of Panama.  In fact, today's post begins our journeys to the Bocas del Toro region in the Caribbean. Specifically, we focused our energy on the confused island of Bastimentos.  I'll write more about this place later.  Today, we're going to explore the importance of mangroves and the difference between white and red mangroves. 
I knew I was in a grove of mangroves the minute I saw the murky and smelly waters.  Consider them a natural barrier to protect land from storms and hurricanes.  Without them, beaches wash away and precious marine life disappears with it.  With mangroves around, the world's endangered coral reefs flourish and our inlands are a much safer place.  PLUS the groves harbor diverse populations of mammals, birds, crabs, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects!  These areas are rich in nutrients and provide a lifeline to our Mother Earth. Today, they are threatened by development and pollution.   "Mangrove foliage, however, has declined by nearly half over the past several decades because of increasing coastal development and damage to its habitat. As the habitat has changed, ever-smaller quantities of mangrove-derived detritus are available for formation and export of dissolved organic matter to the ocean. The researchers speculate that the rapid decline in mangrove extent threatens the delicate balance and may eventually shut off the important link between the land and ocean, with potential consequences for atmospheric composition and climate." Source: Ahh, but who cares?  Let's build that comfortable hotel with its' a/c and wireless options.  It won't be us who suffers the consequences, but our children and grandchildren.  By that time, it should be quite the show.  People fighting over limited resources because the world population kept increasing......the sins of our father(and mothers) indeed.  Maybe I should cut back on my pinot noir:)  Such talk of doom and gloom!

I loved all the crabs running around the mangroves.  Many of them hung out in the soil and on the actual mangrove roots.
"Direct Human Importance

In addition to benefiting the natural ecosystems of the surrounding area, mangroves are also extremely important to human communities as well. Traditionally, they have been sustainably used for food production, medicines, fuel wood, and construction materials. Many indigenous coastal residents rely on mangroves to sustain their traditional cultures. In this way, the mangroves' ability to act as habitat to many possible food sources, as well as it's ability to remain stable while growing tall and strong, are very important to human communities as well. In addition to this, mangrove forests also act as a buffer zone between the open ocean and the land. This not only protects the shores from damage, but also its many inhabitants-including humans. Mangroves protect the coastal land areas from life threatening erosion and siltation problems, preventing a great deal of property damage and sometimes even human death. Finally, the mangroves' ability to treat effluent, discussed above, is also very important for the local communities. Most of the substances that the mangroves treat are human made. Thus, the mangroves are acting as a filter system for the local communities, keeping their ocean waters free of pollution and thus their fish and other food sources free of contaminants. All of these "eco-services" that the mangroves provide, free of charge to the local communities, have a tremendous economic value for all who are dependent on them. Unfortunately, although the hardy mangroves have withstood fierce storms and heavy winds for thousands of years, they are now being devastated by human business and industry." Source:
 So what's my personal opinion about all of this?  The mangroves are very important.  I see how they tie both the ocean and mainland together.  Without these buffers, the rough waves would destroy the calm dark and smelly waters which are natural nurseries for baby fish, jellyfish, caiman, crabs, and many other animals.  It would be a tragedy to lose these magnificent groves.  The destruction of these plant barriers would kill Panama's coral reefs.  As the Amazon rainforest is to our Earth's atmosphere; coral reefs are to our world's ocean ecosystem.  I'd hate to think of the consequences.
So what was it like floating through mangrove forest?  It was peaceful. There were bugs and lots of them.  On Coiba, we saw so many birds and crocodiles.  In Bocas del Toro, we saw a slew of sloths, crabs, and jellyfish.  The waters were full of secretive caiman.  On this particular "river", it was fun to watch the transformation from where salt water and fresh water met.  Once the salt water disappeared, the mangrove section would vanish and be replaced with palms and ferns.  So what kinds of mangroves are there?  During our boat ride, we saw two varieties....the white mangrove and the red mangrove.  There are 3 species of mangrove which also includes the black, but we never saw that particular variety during our visit.

The Red Mangrove
-live in deepest salt-water of the three, going from a few inches to over a foot deep.
-have large prop-roots, often times called "walking roots", with thick lenticels for gas exchange.
-named "red" because they produce chemicals called tannins that turn the water and mud a rusty color.
-leaves are broadly-elliptical and the largest of the three (about 3 to 5 inches long).
-viviparous propagules can survive in salt water for over a year.
Plainly written.....the roots look like they are "walking" in the water.

The White Mangrove
-live farthest away from the water of the three, just above the water level
-sometimes have pneumatophores but they are usually less common. When pneumatophores are present they are usually less prominent than on the black.
-named "white" because of the whitish appearance of the bark.
-leaves are rounded elliptical, have two small glands at leaf base, and are more-yellow green in color.
-viviparous propagules can survive in salt water for at least 1 month. Basicially, the roots come up from the soil instead of "walking" in the water.

There you have it.  Magical and fun.  Mangroves are a definite MUST SEE on a trip to the wild.  Tomorrow,  begins the first write of Bocas Del Toro!



  1. What interesting ecosystems and yes, very important. Thank you for the post. Mother nature had it all worked out. Man just keeps messing it up.

  2. I am very familiar with those photos because we have lots of them here too. But do you know that i haven't really stepped down on the ground or water with mangroves, it is actually one of the things i still want to try. These areas are where our mudcrabs live, mudcrabs are delicacy here.

  3. Andrea, you are daring:). I don't know if I would have gotten out in that water. It scared me. There were baby jellyfish all over the place and lots and lots of crabs. Mudcrabs sound delicious.


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