Mangroves are shrub-like trees that grow in intracoastal waterways, often receiving water from both the ocean and fresh sources. Mangroves are very resilient, and can survive high salinity, low oxygen, thick mud and strong wave conditions. Their survival rate is mainly limited by below freezing temperatures. Generally, mangroves live in tropical and sub-tropical areas all around the world. Their established range in Florida is constantly changing.
No documented mangroves existed in the Suwannee River Water Management District upon the District’s opening in 1972. However, sometime after Hurricane Andrew’s landfall in 1992, hundreds of mangrove seedlings arrived and established in the southern portion of the District, most notably in Cedar Key, Florida.
Cedar Key’s primary wetland system was the salt marsh, which surrounds all coastal parts of the island. Now, a thriving community of mangrove trees have established themselves near, next to, and even within the salt marsh. These mangroves boast the potential to protect the island from coastal erosion and hurricanes. Mangroves also provide a nursery habitat for juvenile fish, allowing them to hide from predators and increase their survival rates.
However, not everyone feels content with the mangroves’ arrival. Some Cedar Key residents dislike that the mangroves grow too tall and block their waterfront views. Mangroves also grow on some of Cedar Key’s nearby barrier islands. Most notably, Atsena Otie Key has lost much of its recreational beach space to a forest of mangroves.
Mangroves are endangered in parts of Florida and have earned themselves protections making their removal illegal. However, in towns like Cedar Key, which never had mangroves in the past, they are non-native and could change the ecosystem. According to the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants, mangroves also exist as far north as Taylor County. If this is true, this could mean that mangroves can survive along the entire nature coast.
The implications of these migrations are debatable, and we hope that continued research will help to answer questions about ethical and practical management of mangroves. I am so grateful for the District giving me the opportunity to begin such an important research objective. I was able to work several field days at Cedar Key and experience sampling first hand. I feel so accomplished having gathered and analyzed data for my own project and I hope that continued research allows us to learn more about what mangroves mean for the ecosystem.
Written by Juliana Navarro