Coastal Habitat Protection - Mangroves
Belize is my home and it lies on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. It’s the most beautiful place on Earth (I know everybody thinks their country is the prettiest but Belize really is). Coastal habitat protection is a serious concern for us. As a tour guide and someone involved in the tourism industry, I know the importance of protecting our coast.
When people think about coastal habitat protection many different things come to mind. Some think of protecting fish, birds and other wildlife. Some think of tourism revenues generated from visiting these areas. Some think of food security and protecting fishing livelihoods. Others focus on protecting the coastline from erosion. All of these are valid points. I think what makes coastal habitat protection so important is that all of these are benefits that we can derive from protecting our coast as well as ensuring a safe place for us to live.
One of the most interesting things I’ve come to learn about Belize’s coast and many other countries have this in common, is the dominance of mangroves. Majority of our coastline is not lined with beautiful white sand beaches. They are actually covered by mangrove forests. They run most of the length of the country. This could be one of the main reasons that we were never colonized by Spain and took a long time for the British to settle. A mosquito infested, mangrove rich coast was not desirable.
The mangroves help to provide nesting areas for fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and countless invertebrates. The roots of the red mangrove are very interesting. They twist and bend and create an impenetrable web of roots that prop up the tree and suspend it above the water line. These roots are a safe haven for many young and juvenile species of fish and other aquatic animals including lobsters and crabs. Many birds nest in the branches of the mangroves; resident and migrant birds. The trees themselves are remarkable. They can withstand some of the strongest hurricane winds and serve as a buffer or sea wall for other areas further inland. Red mangroves help to build the coastline as more and more colonies expand and new trees grow. Some places have started to plant mangroves to help build and protect their shoreline. With all these benefits realized from mangrove forests, protecting these coastal habitats and ecosystems is a no brainer.
One of the greatest threats is deforestation. Mangroves continue to be cut down for coastal development. The removal of the mangroves eliminates all the benefits mentioned earlier. Flood waters from upstream also make their way to the seagrass beds and eventually to the coral reefs because the mangroves are no longer there to filter out the pollutants and sediment. Most people talk about the coastal habitat protection and talk about the reef, the fish, the animals and how important they are. Many times mangroves are not even thought of, but they are an essential part and need to be considered whenever talking about coastal habitat protection.