Last week, our Coral Reef Ecology class visited the Bonaire Mangroves Center in Lac Bay. Our guide taught us about the basics of mangrove identification, as well as the positive effects mangroves have for both humans and the environment. After this brief lecture in the center, we headed out in our kayaks. Red mangroves pressed in on both sides, enclosing us in a shady stream. Halfway through we jumped out of our kayaks and snorkeled, giving us a chance to see what the mangroves looked like underwater. Orange and purple sponges covered the mangrove roots wherever there was room to grow, resulting in the beautiful scene below.
One of the main takeaways I had from this experience was how mangroves act as a buffer to storms such as hurricanes. The guide explained to us that when the water line surges during a tsunami or hurricane, the mangrove acts as a deterrent. Instead of the storm hitting the coastline with full force, some of the wave energy is dissipated as it flows through the mangrove system. This has been shown to result in lower amounts of coastal flooding, as well as less damage to the surrounding ecosystem.
Not only are marine and terrestrial organisms benefiting from the mangroves, though — humans have much to gain from maintaining mangroves. As global warming ramps up and sea levels rise, we will need all the help we can get regarding flood control. Mangrove conservation therefore should be of utmost priority (thankfully, this is already the case in a few places). On a related note, coral reefs have also been shown to substantially lower wave energy. The hurricane season this fall has ravaged certain Caribbean islands, particularly Barbuda. Making sure that coral reef structure is maintained for posterity will play a vital role in the preservation of such susceptible islands.
To end on a bright note, here is another picture from the mangroves! Below is an upside-down jellyfish, of the family Cassiopea. These are often found in shallow mangroves like Lac Bay, tentacles drifting with the current. Upside-down jellies spend much of their life upside down, catching zooplankton for food.
By Ben Farmer, Student of CIEE Bonaire Fall 2017